Luring support for bay initiative

McIntosh, seeking development fee to help in cleanup, offers compromises

General Assembly

March 08, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,sun reporter

The delegate sponsoring a proposed fee on development to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay has offered to give millions of dollars to local governments in an effort to win their support.

In addition, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, proposed amendments to the Chesapeake Bay Green Fund bill that would allow exemptions for developers who limit runoff.

The fee on construction projects -- backed by environmentalists, the O'Malley administration and House Speaker Michael E. Busch -- would raise about $130 million a year for programs to reduce farm runoff and storm-water pollution.

The proposal would also add teeth to state anti-sprawl programs by charging more per square foot for impervious surfaces -- including roads, driveways, parking lots and roofs -- built outside growth zones designated by the state and local governments.

"We don't want to stop growth ... but we want to make sure it's compatible with the heart of Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay, and that heart is sick," McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said during a hearing yesterday.

The compromises she proposed yesterday won praise and some support from the Maryland Association of Counties. But homebuilders remain strongly opposed to the fee, which they say is unfair and would inflate housing costs.

"The focus on new impervious surfaces places a disproportionate burden on the new homebuyer and the new businesses coming into the state," said Stephen J. Orens, lobbyist for the Maryland State Builders Association.

Wilson H. Parran, secretary of the Maryland Association of Counties and president of the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, praised the changes, saying, "Chairman McIntosh has been very open to our input ... and she is very passionate about solving the problems with the environment and the bay, and so are we."

Parran said county governments would like more exemptions for large economic development projects, such as the construction of new nuclear reactors at the Calvert Cliffs power plant.

McIntosh's proposed changes include allowing local governments to get a third of the money raised, instead of requiring them to apply for grants. They would have to use the money for storm-water control systems, development planning and other strategies to improve the bay, McIntosh said.

Developers who built affordable housing or projects designed to limit runoff could avoid the fees, she said.

Such approaches might include building porous parking lots, reducing driveway sizes, adding advanced storm-water control systems and using steppingstones instead of sidewalks, said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has worked with McIntosh on the bill.

McIntosh also said she would reduce the fees per square foot, but she didn't say by how much.

When she unveiled the proposal Feb. 15, the fees were set at $2 a square foot outside designated growth areas and 25 cents a foot inside growth zones. At those rates, a two-story, 2,400-square-foot home would cost about $3,000 more outside designated growth areas and $375 more per square foot in towns and other developed zones.

The money would go in part to help farmers pay for buffer strips along waterways and plant cover crops to reduce runoff of fertilizer.

State Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall praised the proposed fund, saying some of the money would pay to help local governments plan for growth, including the tens of thousands of new residents expected with the national military base realignment.

Since the Smart Growth anti-sprawl laws were passed in 1997, about 70 percent of the acreage eaten up by development has been outside the growth areas designated by local governments, Hall said. The new fee would help focus more construction inside these growth zones, he said.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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