County forest preservation law adopted

December 09, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

After months of debate -- and frequent controversy -- the Carroll commissioners yesterday adopted a forest conservation law aimed at preserving the county's woodlands.

But Commissioner President Donald I. Dell, citing concerns about over-regulation by the state and the law's impact on business and farmland, voted against the measure.

"We're pushing houses out of forests and onto agricultural land," Mr. Dell said, explaining his vote. "We're sacrificing farm acres for forests."

Addressing a small group -- including environmentalists and developers -- Mr. Dell called the process of writing the state-mandated law "frustrating."

L He also said there has been overzealous concern about trees.

"God gave us the trees to use," Mr. Dell said. "All of us have wood in our homes. It's just a way of life."

About 23 percent of the county is forested, the lowest percentage of any Maryland county, state foresters have said.

Although he voted against the measure, Mr. Dell said he would be "as diligent as anyone" in enforcing it. The law is expected to become effective in January.

In mandating a forest preservation law, the state gave local jurisdictions a choice between adopting a state ordinance or writing their own.

Before adopting the locally drafted ordinance, the commissioners unanimously approved the removal of language that would have imposed a daily penalty of 30 cents per square foot on violators of forest conservation plans. Instead, that penalty will be imposed just once.

The commissioners made the change because Manchester developer Martin K. P. Hill, who has been a vocal opponent of having a Carroll forest ordinance, brought the penalty issue to the board's attention.

He and other developers believed that the state law was more stringent on developers than the locally drafted one.

Michelle Ostrander, assistant county attorney, said there are other penalties within the new law, including stop-work orders, to provide incentives for violators to comply.

Frank Grabowski, chairman of a committee that drafted the law, said the change was "incidental."

"The heart of the ordinance is still there," Mr. Grabowski said. "We still have a very good ordinance."

Under Carroll's law, anyone who disturbs 25,000 square feet or more of land would be required to draft a plan to replace trees felled during development.

Also, the county law requires developers to plant trees in certain areas, such as agriculturally zoned land, where they did not previously exist.

Mr. Dell has been concerned about the law's impact on agricultural land and on the cost of future housing.

"We do a lot of lip service about affordable housing," he said. "But I find myself approving more regulation and ordinances all the time."

Jeff Horan, a state regional forester, said the Carroll committee and staff put a lot of work into the ordinance. He said he didn't perceive any problems with the state giving the plan final approval. The plan was given conditional approval by the state, pending its adoption by the commissioners.

"I'm glad to see it adopted," Mr. Horan said.

In addition to the lighter penalty, the commissioners made other changes -- involving tree-retention priorities during development -- following a public hearing in October.

Under the revisions, trees 30 inches or more in diameter will be made a priority for retention, up from 26 inches in diameter.

The law has been a source of controversy almost from the beginning.

Just a few months after appointing a committee to draft an ordinance, the commissioners considered scrapping the effort and adopting the state ordinance.

Bowing to public pressure, the county continued the process of writing its own law. Further controversies erupted last spring with the appointment of a representative of developers to the committee.

And last month the commissioners again considered scrapping the plan in favor of the state law after continued opposition from developers.

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