Senate gives final OK on bill to restore Critical Area law

March 30, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The state Senate gave final approval yesterday to one of Gov. Parris N. Glendening top environmental priorities, a bill designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay from waterfront development.

The legislation attempts to clarify the state's 18-year-old Critical Area law after recent court decisions made it easier for people to receive permits to disturb the shoreline.

"This bill corrects recent court decisions that undermined the original intent of the law and created loopholes big enough to drive development bulldozers through," Glendening said. "We have taken the next important steps to restore, preserve and protect the Chesapeake Bay."

In 1984, lawmakers established the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission and gave it authority to set standards restricting development within 1,000 feet of the bay and its tidal waters.

Environmentalists credit the commission with improving bay water quality, but some property owners criticize the law for being too stringent.

Since 1999, the Maryland Court of Appeals has issued three decisions in favor of property owners who challenged parts of the law.

In one case, the court ruled that a local board could grant an exception, even if alternative locations exist, for development in a 100-foot buffer along the water's edge, where no disturbance of the shoreline is to be allowed. In another, the court ruled an applicant had to abide by some, but not all, of the standards set up for development.

Glendening and environmentalists said the court decisions weakened the law's intent and worried that they could lead to unbridled development. The bill, approved Monday by the House, returns the law to the way it was before the court decisions. The bill now goes to Glendening.

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