Hearing only now possible on reforestation appeal

March 06, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

A Finksburg construction company caught the county government unprepared when it filed the first appeal of a forest conservation ordinance decision in the ordinance's 14-month history.

The county government didn't have a procedure for handling appeals when Kibler Construction Co. Inc. filed its challenge Feb. 9.

An assistant county attorney and the hearings coordinator from the county office of administrative hearings have drawn one up, so now a hearing can be scheduled before the county commissioners.

Kibler is seeking a reduction in the requirement under the forest conservation ordinance that the company replace and add trees as part of its plan to construct an equipment storage building on its 25-acre property on Baltimore Boulevard.

Assistant County Attorney Mary Jo Murphy said it is not unusual for the county government not to have an appeals process until it gets an appeal.

The forest conservation ordinance established the right to challenge the decisions made by the environmental services administrator, James B. Slater Jr., and Environmental Affairs Advisory Board.

But the ordinance didn't have to spell out how to pursue that avenue, she said.

The commissioners adopted the forest conservation ordinance in December 1992. Mr. Slater said the decision not to ease $H requirements for Kibler was based on the criterion of whether meeting the law would create undue hardship for the company.

"The board and I didn't feel they presented that," he said.

In a consultation session before the county Environmental Affairs Advisory Board in December, Kibler representatives rejected a compromise proposed by then-EAAB Chairman Franklin L. Grabowski.

Mr. Grabowski suggested reducing Kibler's tree-planting requirements if the company would agree to a permanent preservation easement for the forested acreage remaining on its property.

Diana Coyne, Kibler's office manager, said the company owners felt it was unreasonable to expect them to lock all the remaining forested acreage into an easement that would bar development of that land.

Kibler Co. representatives proposed meeting forestation requirements only for the 1.4 acres that will be disturbed for the new building, rather than for the whole tract as the ordinance requires.

They also proposed putting a permanent easement on twice as much existing woodland as they would be required to plant, rather than plant any additional trees.

The ordinance gives the environmental services administrator the authority to grant variances, "after consultation with and approval of the Environmental Affairs Advisory Board."

Mr. Slater and the board agreed on the Kibler case. He said he didn't know how the situation would be resolved in case of a disagreement.

Under the newly designed procedure, anyone unhappy with a decision of Mr. Slater and the EAAB can file an appeal within 30 days after the decision.

The commissioners will schedule a hearing within 30 days after an appeal notice is filed with the county government.

The county will charge a $125 filing fee to cover hearing costs.

Mrs. Murphy said the commissioners will "generally" render a decision within two weeks after the hearing, but they are not committed to any deadline.

"That gives them some flexibility to get the information they need to make an informed decision and to get the paperwork done," she said.

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