Commissioners clash over state forest program

March 10, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County's commissioners showed the House of Delegates yesterday that their views on Maryland's forest conservation program are as diverse as those of the people they serve.

At a House Environmental Matters Committee hearing on a bill that would exempt most of Maryland from the controversial program, Commissioner Donald I. Dell testified that the state's tree-saving measures are too stringent and stifle economic growth.

"We need to stop telling the world we're anti-growth by shouting it from the treetops," Mr. Dell said. "This has a negative effect when we're trying to attract industry. Neighboring states haven't enacted this kind of legislation."

But moments later, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown rose in opposition to the bill proposed by Del. J. Anita Stup, stating that most residents he speaks to favor the 4-year-old statewide mandate.

Ms. Stup is a Republican who represents Frederick and Washington counties. Dels. Joseph M. Getty and Donald B. Elliott -- Republicans from Manchester and New Windsor, respectively -- co-sponsored the bill.

"In Carroll County, the opposition is only coming from the developers," Mr. Brown said, noting that county builders have fought forest conservation measures from the beginning.

He said developers still are unhappy with the county ordinance, even though it was amended to address many of their concerns.

"You don't read letters to the editor in the local papers from the rest of the residents complaining about the program," Mr. Brown said. "For all the outcry, it's really a minimalist bill that gives local jurisdictions a good deal of room to tailor it to local concerns."

If the Stup bill is enacted, it would leave only Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City in the forest conservation program.

Supporters, most from Frederick and Washington counties, said the forest program is unnecessary in rural areas where most of the land is already covered in trees.

The program also hinders agricultural preservation, forcing developers to plant trees on what could be active farmland, they said.

"We wanted to retain a farm and it became a forest," said David Ling of the Frederick County Builders' Association, referring to a 60-acre project where the owners built 36 houses around a 19-acre farm.

Although Mr. Ling testified that the owners chose that design to preserve the farm, he later acknowledged that the 19-acre property didn't pass county percolation tests, so homes couldn't have been built on it anyway.

The bill's supporters also claimed that the regulations are often unnecessary because residents plant trees on their properties when they buy new homes.

Most of those trees probably aren't any taller than the houses' roof-lines, Mr. Brown countered, as he described a Westminster subdivision built in 1979.

When the developer began building the second phase of the subdivision, just after the forest conservation law was enacted, residents called Westminster city offices to complain about the trees being cut down and burned, said Mr. Brown, Westminster's former mayor.

"The air was black with smoke and people were saying, 'I didn't think I'd have to put up with this anymore,' " he said. "I had to say, 'Sorry, that was approved before the Forest Conservation Act.' "

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