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Hearing set for proposed changes to Forest Conservation Ordinance

Changes include state-mandated increase in 'payment in lieu of planting' fee

August 20, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24 on proposed changes to Washington County's Forest Conservation Ordinance, including a state-mandated increase in the fees developers pay if they are unable to meet tree-planting requirements on-site.

That "payment in lieu of planting" fee would increase from 10 cents per square foot of required planting to 30 or 36 cents per square foot, depending on whether the project is in a priority area.

The fees are paid as a last resort if a developer cannot meet forest preservation or planting requirements on the project site and are used to support forestation efforts elsewhere, county planning director Michael C. Thompson said.

The 30 cents-per-square-foot fee was set as a minimum by state legislation in 2009, and additional state legislation passed this year added the 36-cent minimum for development projects outside of priority areas, Thompson said.

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The priority areas are generally designated growth areas, while nonpriority areas are generally more rural, he said.

The payment-in-lieu fee increase met with reluctance from the Washington County Commissioners when it was brought up for consideration last year.

The commissioners were concerned the higher fees would discourage economic development, Thompson said. The developer of a project in the Hopewell area that paid $200,000 in payment-in-lieu fees would have had to pay $600,000 under the new requirements, he said.

"That sort of doesn't help us too much in the market when you're competing with other states and so forth on this stuff," he said.

In addition, the commissioners were resistant because officials from the Washington County Soil Conservation District, which helps spend the payment-in-lieu fees, said the planting actually costs about 20 cents per square foot, Thompson said.

Previously, the commissioners decided to seek state legislation exempting Washington County from forest conservation requirements, but that legislation failed, Thompson said.

An attempt to lower the minimum payment-in-lieu fees on the state level also failed, he said.

Now, the commissioners have little choice but to enact the state-mandated fees, Thompson said.

"The choice is, under the state statute, at some point the state could say, 'We're taking over your (forest conservation) program,' and we don't want that to happen," Thompson said.

Other proposed changes to the ordinance include:

o Reducing the forest disturbance threshold for a single lot exemption from 40,000 to 20,000 square feet

o For a single lot exemption, revising immediate family member definition to only "child of the owner"

o Removing the ordinance exemption for an area previously developed and covered by a paved surface at time of application

o Adding Urban Growth Area and street tree definitions

o Adding planting of approved street trees to the preferred sequence of techniques and areas for mitigation

o Minor changes for clarification and style

The ordinance with proposed amendments and the fee-increase resolution are available on the county website at http://www.washco-md.net.

If you go...



What: Public hearing on changes to the Washington County Forest Conservation Ordinance and increases to "payment in lieu of planting" fees

When: Tuesday, Aug. 24, 1:15 p.m.

Where: Washington County Administration Building, 100 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown, Room 227

On the Web



The ordinance with proposed amendments and the fee-increase resolution are available on the county website at http://www.washco-md.net.

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