State commission orders Arundel to plug loopholes in its shoreline program

June 08, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission has given Anne Arundel County 90 days to eliminate loopholes within its shoreline protection program that relax the rules for certain construction projects.

The 23-member panel declared two provisions of the county program "deficient" last week because, after more than a year of negotiations, the county's proposed revisions failed to tighten the loopholes, said Chairman John C. North II.

"They have made some of the changes we requested, others they have not," Judge North said yesterday. "There was a sentiment among commission members that perhaps the county wasn't being as fully responsive as it should be."

The flawed sections require that lots subdivided before 1985 comply only "insofar as possible" and exempt entirely about 24 Broadneck subdivisions that were placed on a waiting list for sewer service.

In April 1992, the commission asked the county to address a list of 22 issues -- including those found deficient last week -- where the panel has found the county program in conflict with the state's 9-year-old Critical Area law. The panel has increased pressure on the county to resolve the problems ever since.

When County Executive Robert R. Neall unveiled the county's proposed revisions May 20, seven months after the commission's initial October deadline, he said they would strengthen the county program, making it "unsurpassed" in the state. Many environmentalists also praised the revisions, which will be heard by the County Council on June 21.

Steve Carr, an activist with the Severn River Association, said he is particularly impressed by the manner in which the county has proposed dealing with future conflicts between the state law and the county program. In those instances, the revisions say the stricter rule would apply. "As far as I'm concerned, they [county officials] have done what the Critical Area Commission has asked them to do," he said.

But commission members, who oversee 60 critical area programs throughout Maryland, worry that the new provisions still allow the county to grant broad exemptions of some shoreline protections. Judge North said there is concern that the county has removed the "insofar as possible" language only to replace it with new loopholes. During the past year, the commission has proposed and the county heretofore has rejected language that contains more "rigid standards," he said.

County Councilwoman Diane Evans, an Arnold Republican and a member of the Critical Area Commission, said she was uncertain if the commission was being critical of the county's proposed revisions as much as the existing program. But, she said, the panel "was sending the county a message, 'To do it and do it now,' and I think that was appropriate. We have to take the protection of our shoreline very seriously."

Commission member James Gutman said the panel's June 2 action also was aimed at two controversial housing projects on the Little Magothy and West rivers. He said the commission hopes to prevent the county from issuing new grading permits that would allow the developers to bulldoze forest, wetlands

and environmentally sensitive shoreline. The state law nullifies any approvals granted under "deficient" provisions.

He said the panel acted because the staff was worried that the county could, at any moment, issue new grading permits to the developers of Woods Landing II, a 153-townhouse development on the Lower Broadneck peninsula, and Back Bay Beach, a 71-home subdivision in West River.

The commission and neighboring residents have challenged both projects in Circuit Court, arguing that their approval conflicts with the 1984 state Critical Area law. "We didn't want any more trees removed until everything was corrected," said Mr. Gutman.

Judge North agreed: "The critical area standards that we felt were appropriate were not being applied to them. It was felt that a firm action needed to be taken."

It is unclear, however, what effect the ruling has on grading permits. Assistant Attorney General George E. H. Gay, the commission's lawyer, said the panel's decision prevents the county from granting zoning or subdivision approvals, but he would not confirm that grading permits also would be restricted.

Tom Andrews, the county's chief environmental officer, said county officials have not seen the commission's written decision and are uncertain how it will affect grading permits or other project approvals. He did confirm that a grading permit is pending for Woods Landing II.

Carolyn Krone, a lawyer for the Back Bay Beach developer, said the ruling "will have an effect [on new grading permits], but I do not consider it insurmountable."

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