Responding to a barrage of complaints from developers and local officials, some lawmakers in Annapolis have proposed legislation to delay and weaken Maryland's new storm-water pollution-control requirements before they can take effect. Environmentalists denounced the move, saying it would give developers a "free pass" from having to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
The bill, introduced Wednesday in the House of Delegates, would "grandfather" from the new rules an untold number of proposed development projects statewide that are in the local planning pipeline. The measure also would ease runoff controls required for redevelopment, as well as for affordable housing and projects built around transit stops.
Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., the bill's chief sponsor, said he put it in to address what he called "flaws" in the storm-water regulations issued last year by the Department of the Environment. He said that the measure would allow developers to proceed with projects that have won preliminary local government approval, and that unless redevelopment requirements are relaxed, suburban sprawl would keep gobbling up forest and farmland.
The new storm-water rules, which counties and municipalities were to begin enforcing May 4, were drafted to carry out a law that Holmes and other lawmakers overwhelmingly approved in 2007 to crack down on runoff from developed land. Storm-water pollution is a significant source of pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and the state's rivers and streams, officials say.
"I'm in total agreement with the objectives of the storm-water regulations - cleaning the bay," said Holmes, a Prince George's County Democrat who is chairman of a House environmental matters subcommittee. He also is project manager for land planning and engineering for K Hovnanian, a national home building firm with several projects in Maryland. But he said his firm has no projects that would benefit from his bill.
Developers and city and county officials have been complaining for weeks that the new rules would significantly increase the costs of their projects and likely would force them to abandon some. State environmental officials plan to issue guidelines soon to address the complaints, but Thomas M. Farasy, president of the Maryland State Builders Association, said he doubted they would satisfy industry concerns.
But Kim Coble, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the bill would undermine efforts to clean up the bay by weakening runoff requirements for redevelopment and by giving an open-ended exemption from the new standards for many projects already proposed.
"This bill will ensure that storm water continues to pollute our bay and our rivers," she said. "It will ensure that municipalities and taxpayers have to pay more for clean water. And it will ensure that developers continue to get a free pass when it comes to improving the environment."
It is scheduled for a hearing March 5 before the House Environmental Matters Committee.