Officials oppose change in forest law

July 28, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

The county commissioners' plans to change a word in the penalty section of the forest conservation law would make the law too lenient, Mount Airy and Westminster officials said yesterday.

"The change from 'shall' to 'may' implies a certain amount of leniency in the penalty," Teresa Bamberger, Mount Airy town planner, told the county commissioners during a public hearing on zoning amendments.

The forest conservation law, adopted last year, says anyone who violates it "shall be assessed a penalty." The commissioners want to change it to read "may be assessed a penalty."

The commissioners have said the proposed change is grammatical and is needed to clarify the law, aimed at preserving the county's forests.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the commissioners had intended to use the word "may" in the penalty section when they adopted the ordinance.

"If a mistake hadn't been made we wouldn't be here today," he said. "We're not changing it. We're not watering it down."

County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. said leaving the current wording intact would make penalties mandatory.

"If it's mandatory, there is no discretion," he said.

But Ms. Bamberger said the change would allow county officials to determine who violated the law intentionally and unintentionally.

"The change from 'shall' to 'may' is inappropriate because of its implications," Ms. Bamberger said.

Westminster City Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein didn't testify against the change but submitted letters of opposition from Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown and the city's tree commission.

"The proposed change has raised sufficient concerns within the governing bodies of Carroll's towns, including the City of Westminster, to call into question the county's motivation in considering changes at such an early stage of the ordinance's implementation and enforcement process," Mr. Brown wrote in his letter.

Mount Airy and Westminster officials said county commissioners should have informed the towns of their plans to change the law.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy, who initially supported the change, said he would vote against the proposal because of the public's perception that the commissioners are attempting to weaken the law.

"That's my concern, frankly," he said. "There is a perception that we are watering it down."

Carroll's law requires anyone who disturbs 25,000 square feet or more of land to replace felled trees and to provide the county with data on existing woodlands.

The law says violators shall be fined 30 cents per square foot of the area disturbed by development. The county may levy an additional $1,000 fine.

The county has levied only one fine for violation of the forest conservation law since it was adopted. The owner of Stauffer Funeral Homes in Mount Airy was fined $3,649 for removing several large trees on a one-acre lot on East Ridgeville Boulevard without providing the county with data on the trees and other ground cover.

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