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Washington County closing in on new land-limit map

December 12, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Washington County is reluctantly moving ahead with a land-category map to comply with a state law limiting development in rural areas.

The map, as proposed, would place about 58 percent of the county in the most restrictive category, known as Tier 4.

That change is projected to cut potential development in Washington County by about 24 percent, according to calculations by county staff.

Other options are more severe.

If the county balks and does not comply with the new law, a state-imposed map would cut potential development by about 47 percent, the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning reported last week.

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A second alternate map recommended by the state is similar, cutting potential development in Tier 4 by about 45 percent.

The state passed the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 to protect the Chesapeake Bay through tighter controls of land and development.

The law calls for a four-tier system basing the magnitude of development on the type of land.

Maryland’s counties have a Dec. 31 deadline to adopt their own maps and land designations that align with the new four-tier structure.

According to a chart compiled by the county Department of Planning and Zoning, five counties in Maryland — Garrett, Howard, Kent, Montgomery and Prince George’s — have adopted a tier map.

At least two counties — Queen Anne’s and Wicomico — have no plans to do so, the chart says.

The chart lists 22 Maryland counties, but not the 23rd — Caroline — or Baltimore City.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners has expressed frustration about the new tier system and having to submit to a state mandate.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham has suggested that the county consider suing the state.

On Tuesday, Callaham suggested another rebellious idea. The county could take a map the state proposed for Washington County, showing a large swath of land designated for Tier 4, and reassign that land to the less-restrictive Tier 3, she said.

Referring to a state planning official whose letter accompanied the restrictive proposed map, Callaham said, “He’s making a travesty of this whole thing.”

County officials, though, have noted that while Washington County is free to choose its own map, local compliance with the septic law will be noted in a report to the state legislature in early 2013.

Stephen Goodrich, the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said counties are concerned that the legislature could look unkindly on noncompliance and decide on even tighter septic limitations.

On the map Washington County is leaning toward passing, 6.6 percent of the land would be in Tier 1, which allows development under existing public sewer service.

Tier 2, in which public sewer service is planned, would have 7.0 percent of the land.

Tier 3, with no public sewer service, would have 28.2 percent of the land.

In Tier 4, which would have 58.2 percent of the land, only “minor” subdivisions are allowed.

Washington County currently defines “minor” as no more than five lots, but is planning to increase that ceiling to seven lots, as allowed under state law.

County staff will draw up the new map for a vote by the commissioners, probably on Tuesday, their last scheduled meeting of the year.

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