Officials back waiver to tree law

June 22, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll's commissioners are ready to grant a waiver that would allow the owner of a Finksburg area wood lot to bypass the county forest conservation ordinance.

Atlee Edrington of Westminster, owner of the 8.3 wooded acres west of Old Gamber Road, says he doesn't plan to use the exemption to chop down all the trees and then build a subdivision, circumventing the law.

But he refused to sign the pledge required of loggers and timber harvesters not to subdivide their forests within seven years after cutting timber there. He said it's a matter of his constitutional rights.

Loggers who sign the declaration of intent not to develop and then change their minds are not barred from subdividing. But they would be required to meet the county forest conservation ordinance's tree-planting requirements as if the harvested trees still were standing.

The "as if" provision might not increase the number of trees a developer would have to plant, depending on whether the trees were harvested carefully and selectively, allowing for young trees to develop, said James E. Slater, county environmental services administrator.

Those who denude the land of trees and then submit a subdivision plan "in an obvious attempt to end run the forest ordinance" face possible fines, said Neil Ridgely, county landscaping and forest conservation program manager. The county can levy a fine of 30 cents a square foot.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy said they favor exempting Mr. Edrington from the declaration if he appeals a staff denial and if they have the legal authority to grant the waiver.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge could not be reached for comment but left a telephone message saying she opposed the declaration of intent not to develop because it makes people "feel like they're constantly being watched."

Mr. Edrington said he plans to research a Supreme Court decision in an Oregon case before deciding whether to appeal to the commissioners. In that case, owners of a small plumbing supply chain claimed that a city government was illegally taking their property by requiring an open space buffer along a stream.

Mr. Edrington said the declaration of intent in the Carroll ordinance "really goes against the Constitution and my property rights."

He said the acreage is all that remains of the more than 1,000 acres that belonged to his ancestors. He said he feared the declaration of intent would reduce the property's potential sale price.

"You lose all your bargaining rights when you sign something," he said. "Now, I have no intention of selling that property. But I'm getting on in years, and you never know when I might need cash."

The declaration of intent is part of the state forest conservation law, although the state specifies five years, the county seven. Paul J. Amrhein, state forest conservation program coordinator, said the idea was to prevent developers from circumventing the law.

Without the declaration, "All the developers would have a tree sale and then develop," Mr. Amrhein said. He said the clear cutting would undermine the law's efforts to preserve forest in ecologically critical areas such as slopes and along stream banks.

Mr. Dell would like the declaration eliminated from state and local law. "Being a redneck, I think we should have constitutional rights to [harvest trees] without kissing some bureaucrat's butt," he said.

Mr. Lippy said he favors an exemption for Mr. Edrington because "I can't see anything other than principle involved, which touches a responsive note in my big heart."

Mr. Lippy said he also favored granting the exemption because of Mr. Edrington's age. The wood-lot owner is 80. The commissioner said that if other timber harvesters sought exemptions, he would also consider their requests.

Mr. Ridgely estimated that the county has "hundreds" of declarations of intent not to subdivide on file from loggers.

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