Bar association gets involved in county regulations

July 10, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

The Carroll County Bar Association has formed committees to study two environmental policies, and one of the groups is dominated by lawyers who often represent developers before county agencies.

The policies being studied -- stream protection regulations and the forest conservation ordinance -- are each less than 2 years old and were formed by committees after months of study.

The stream regulations were approved by the county commissioners in April after being developed by the county planning commission. The forest conservation ordinance was approved by the commissioners in December 1992 after a citizens committee spent 18 months drafting it.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted in favor of the regulation that creates stream protection zones, which will establish buffers along streams in new subdivisions. But two weeks ago, he sent a copy of the regulation's proposed language to Charles D. Hollman, president of the local bar, to review.

Mr. Hollman has also served as Mr. Dell's personal attorney. He represented Cranberry Meadow Farms, the commissioner's farm, in negotiations in 1993 and again this year to release a 30-foot strip of land along Sullivan Road from agricultural preservation easements.

The commissioner said he saw no conflict of interest in giving county government regulations to his attorney to review.

"You know who the government is, don't you?" he said. "It's all of us."

A bar association committee is scheduled to review the language.

Mr. Hollman appointed the forest conservation ordinance study committee last month, as the county government prepared to advertise proposed amendments to the ordinance. He wrote the commissioners that the committee would address "needed and proposed amendments to the ordinance."

A public work session to ask staff members about the amendments is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. tomorrow in the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster. The public hearing will be at 4 p.m. July 18 in the County Office Building.

Three of the five members of the committee studying the forest regulations frequently represent developers.

Brian Bowersox, a former assistant county attorney now in private practice, was asked to join the committee.

"I know there's a fear that this is a bunch of developers' lawyers who are going to try to steamroller something for the developers," he said. "I'm not there to ram something through that is not in the best interests of all the people of Carroll County."

Committee members who often represent would-be developers are chairman Clark R. Shaffer, David K. Bowersox and John T. Maguire. Mr. Maguire currently represents Carroll Developers Inc., a Howard County developer that seeks denser zoning for a planned subdivision at Linton Road and Route 26.

The fifth member is William R. MacDonald, a general practice lawyer, who said he volunteered for the committee because he has a case that involves the forest conservation ordinance and wants to gain a thorough understanding of the law.

County attorney Charles W. Thompson, who spent several months working with other staff members on the amendments, said he was "a little disappointed that nobody from this office was appointed to be on the committee."

Mr. Thompson submitted draft amendments to Mr. Hollman and to James F. Piet, president of the local homebuilders association, for comment. He said staff members made some changes in the proposed amendments from those comments.

Mr. Hollman said he was unaware that Mr. Thompson was interested in serving. He said that he wanted a committee that would not represent any special interest.

"The focus of this group is to give another perspective that is not [that of] the development community and that is not what might be perceived as environmentalists," he said.

Amendments up for public hearing include:

* Land owners would be allowed to create "banks" of forest. Developers who cannot meet tree planting requirements on subdivision sites could buy tree credits from banks.

* Tree planting requirements for new commercial, industrial or institutional buildings would be calculated on the acreage disturbed for the project, not on total acreage.

* Town governments would be allowed to accept street trees instead of requiring forest plantings on new subdivisions in towns.

The stream buffer language that concerns Mr. Dell establishes a 100-foot strip on each side of a stream running through a subdivision in order to keep the water clean and maintain the stream banks, said Catherine M. Rappe, chief of county water resource management.

Mr. Dell said he is "concerned about the legality of these restrictions."

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