Bill to shield Columbia's trees, opposed by Rouse, state, is pulled

March 16, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Hours before a scheduled hearing on a bill that sought to protect Columbia woodlands, the measure was withdrawn yesterday by its sponsor, Del. Martin G. Madden.

Mr. Madden, a Republican from District 13B, said he withdrew the proposal after learning that it would be opposed by the state Department of Natural Resources and would have no chance of passage. He also said he had gotten a commitment from the Rouse Co. to help draft another bill applying the 1991 Forest Conservation Act only to redeveloped land in Columbia.

Mr. Madden said a proposal more favorable to the Rouse Co. -- to be drafted for the 1995 legislative session -- was "the best we could hope for" with opposition from the Department of Natural Resources.

"It was very, very unlikely the bill would pass," Mr. Madden said.

The state agency and Rouse Co. executives were planning to deliver opposing testimony at a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee yesterday afternoon.

The bill sought to apply the 1991 Forest Conservation Act to Columbia, which was exempted, along with other previously approved "planned unit developments," in the 1991 law. The assumption at the time was that such developments already preserve a high percentage of forested open space.

Last year, the General Assembly-appointed Forest Conservation Advisory Group recommended several changes in the law but did not recommend including such planned communities, said Gene Piotrowski, associate director for urban forestry at the Department of Natural Resources.

The developments are regulated by local planning authorities, including the percentage of open space mandated for each project.

"Generally, it's been working fairly well with local government interpretation and action," Mr. Piotrowski said.

Alton J. Scavo, Rouse Co. senior vice president and general manager of Columbia, praised Mr. Madden's withdrawal of the bill.

The company had opposed it on grounds that it take away valuable land for development after the company had already set aside 37 percent of Columbia's 14,000 acres for open space.

"The fact that is was retroactively imposed was not, in our opinion, appropriate or fair," Mr. Scavo said.

In a letter to Mr. Madden, Mr. Scavo said the company continues to support tree-conservation legislation and would welcome the chance to help draft a bill that would limit the exemption of Columbia and other such developments.

"The bill drafted would have taken away the exemption for everything," Mr. Madden said yesterday.

The alternative legislation would maintain the exemption for undeveloped land in Columbia and other planned communities but would apply it for any project to be built on previously developed land.

Mr. Scavo said an example of that might be the Symphony Woods office building at South Entrance Road and U.S. 29, which was built on site of the razed Columbia Association Tennis Barn.

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