County says 'no' to land-map requirement

December 18, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — When the Washington County commissioners decided Tuesday not to meet a new state requirement on land limits, one was particularly piqued.

Commissioner John F. Barr said some owners of large tracts of Washington County land are disturbed by state-imposed land restrictions and want the county to stand up and say no.

“I’m very disappointed with our delegation,” Barr added, alleging that the county’s state legislators haven’t made “a peep” of protest over the mandate.

Barr pledged to go to Annapolis every day of the coming three-month session to fight the septic law, if necessary.

He also predicted that his brother-in-law — Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. — would call and tear him “to shreds” over the criticism.

Barr’s brief protest speech was the latest round of backlash in Washington County over the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, a measure aimed at protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland counties have until Dec. 31 to adopt maps that follow the four-tier system, a clamp on development with septic systems on rural land.

The map Washington County considered adopting this month would have cut potential development on rural land by about 24 percent.

Instead, without its own map, the county will defer to an even more restrictive state map, which limits potential development on local rural land by about 47 percent, according to calculations by county staff.

At least a few other counties have chosen the same approach. Queen Anne’s and Wicomico don’t plan to adopt tier maps, according to a Washington County chart.

Carroll County is doing the same, the Carroll County Times reported Friday.

At least five counties, though, have approved tier maps, the Washington County chart shows.

The law doesn’t require counties to adopt their own tier maps, said Leslie Knapp Jr., a legal and policy counsel for the Maryland Association of Counties. But, if they don’t, they lose the ability to approve major subdivisions — more than seven lots — with septic systems.

The Maryland Department of Planning is scheduled to report to the legislature by Feb. 1 on the septic law, including how and whether counties have complied.

During a phone interview after the meeting, Barr said he has tried to explain to angry landowners that the septic land tiers are a state mandate, but they still pressure him.

He said state legislators should press to extend the compliance deadline from Dec. 31 to April 8, the final day of the session. By then, the legislature would have heard the progress report on compliance and might be swayed by the brewing protest movement, Washington County officials hope.

Told Monday afternoon about Barr’s critique, Myers said counties should lead the charge. He said that if the state objects to their maps, they should sue — a legal tactic Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham has suggested.

Myers said an appropriate time to criticize the delegation was last week, when it met with the commissioners about the upcoming session. Barr didn’t attend that meeting.

Barr acknowledged that he might have had chances before Tuesday to complain directly to delegation members, but the “crisis of the day” usually pops up.

By early Tuesday afternoon, Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the delegation chairman, had heard about Barr’s remarks.

Serafini said many people in Annapolis, including local delegation members, have spoken out publicly against new mandates, calling them part of a “War on Rural Maryland.”

He also pointed to the existence of a Maryland Rural Counties Coalition, which now has 10 members, including Washington County, according to a news release posted on Frederick County’s website.

In addition, the Rural Caucus in Annapolis has strongly resisted new mandates.

“We voiced this concern,” Serafini said.

Asked if he agreed with the Washington County commissioners’ decision not to adopt a tier map, Serafini said he’d have done the same thing.

Terry L. Baker, the president of the commissioners, called the septic development mandate “a total violation” of constitutional rights prohibiting the seizure of property.

Besides taking no action on the tier map, the commissioners unanimously agreed to increase the ceiling for a “minor” subdivision from five lots to seven lots, as allowed in state law.

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