The coast's uncertain destiny Southern Maryland: Computers can help get a handle on lots exempt from Critical Area law.

July 23, 1996

MARYLAND'S Critical Area Act of 1984 aimed to curb the explosion of development along the state's shorelines, to implement sensible environmental protection while allowing for reasonable growth and enjoyment of waterfront resources. It fostered the concept of clustered development in these fragile areas, concentrating communities in order to preserve the attraction of a natural, undeveloped shoreline.

As The Sun's series on coastal development of Southern Maryland points out, the legislation exempted untold thousands of waterfront lots that can be developed outside that law's restrictions. With the population of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties projected to double over the next two decades, shoreline housing pressures are rapidly intensifying.

These grandfathered-in lots, platted before the 1984 law but still vacant, are a powerful magnet for people seeking a serene waterfront home without the cost and crowding of a planned residential community. Local real estate sellers know they have a hot property, even if their multiple listings don't begin to cover all the possible parcels.

Surprisingly, the state and its Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission don't have an accurate handle on the number of these available lots, nor do the counties in which they are recorded, Sun reporter Ellen Gamerman writes. Larger plotted subdivisions of these exempt lots are known; St. Mary's County can identify 24 "hot spot" clusters of these potential development properties.

Yet the task of monitoring shoreline development is overwhelming, due to incomplete land maps, conflicting data and lack of a defined purpose. Such information is invaluable for environmental and growth planning alike; other legal limits to housing construction can be enforced where necessary. That's why the effort by the University of Maryland Baltimore County and federal agencies to use land records and satellite photos to compile a computer picture of growth should be encouraged so that Southern Maryland's coastal destiny can become more certain.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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