Council approves tree-saving law

January 20, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

On a 6-1 vote, the Baltimore County Council last night approved a local version of the state's 1991 forest conservation law.

Dundalk Councilman Donald C. Mason, D-7th, cast the only "no" vote, arguing that the county is in "too fragile" an economic situation to be passing new state-mandated laws that don't pay for themselves.

On lots larger than 1 acre, the law requires builders to:

* Leave trees on 15 percent to 50 percent of the site,

* Replace trees they cut down beyond those minimums, or

* Pay up to $4,300 per acre into a public fund to pay for planting trees elsewhere. Builders also could have to plant trees on lots already barren.

Although Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, expressed a few doubts last night, colleagues Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, of Catonsville, and Vincent Gardina, D-5th, of Essex, delivered strong endorsements.

"Maryland has lost 300,000 acres of farmland and forests to development since 1970," Mrs. Manley said. "This bill is needed."

Mr. Gardina, whose eastern district includes considerable waterfront land, said, "We can't measure everything in dollars and cents only."

The new law will produce future savings by reducing sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and by lessening the frequency of expensive dredging to remove sediment from boating channels, he said.

Pikesville Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, suggested that the county change its own public works rules so that more trees would be left in place when roads and sidewalks are built.

"We're requiring roads to be too wide, too flat and too straight, and sidewalks on both sides of a street," he said. "We're requiring trees to be cut down."

Mr. Howard, who represents Perry Hall and Fullerton, said he is worried that the law will increase housing costs and diminish the supply of new homes affordable to young couples. But he voted for the bill anyway.

Estimates from county Administrative Officer Mereen E. Kelly were for $750,000 to $800,000 in new costs to the county government itself over the next six years for replacement of trees under the new law on such public projects as roads, schools and sewers. In addition, the county will have to hire at least one new forester, at a cost up to $45,000 per year. Money for the position is included in this year's budget, however.

The state law, adopted by the General Assembly in 1991, requires all local jurisdictions to adopt their own versions by Dec. 31.

So far, 11 other counties, including Anne Arundel, have drafted -- but not passed -- local bills.

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