Administration Offers Amendments to Septics Bill

The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee held its first workgroup on the Administration’s septics legislation on February 20.  At the meeting, a panel of State officials, led by Maryland Secretary of Planning Richard Hall introduced a set of “concept” amendments to the bill.  Among the things the offered amendments would:

  • Allow a local jurisdiction to initially adopt the Tiers administratively and then as part of its comprehensive plan as part of the next planning cycle
  • State that the legislation would not affect local transfer of development rights (TDR) programs or affect easements held by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, Maryland Environmental Trust, or the Department of Natural Resources
  • Provide that is a county and municipality have a conflict over Tier designations in the same area, the Department of the Environment (MDE) will make the final designation, in consultation with the Department of Planning (MDP)
  • Clarify that if a local government chooses to adopt the Tiers, at the minimum a county must adopt Tiers I, III, and IV and a municipal corporation must adopt Tiers I and Tier II

As noted in another Conduit Street article, MACo has significant concerns over the proposed amendment that would give the State authority to decide a county/municipal corporation dispute.  The amendment represents a longstanding attempt by MML to force counties to include areas targeted for annexation in their waster and sewer master plans.

Of the five areas of critical concern raised by MACo in its testimony, the Administration amendments only address one issue – the definition of “major” and “minor” subdivisions.  The amendments allow a local government that does not have a major/minor definition to adopt one for the purposes of the bill by December 31 of this year.  The definition for minor may not exceed 7 housing units.  If a local jurisdiction does not pass a definition, a State definition of 4 housing units for a minor (the same as the 2011 septics legislation) will go into effect.  Jurisdictions with multiple definitions of major and minor subdivisions must submit the definition they wish to use for the bill’s purposes to the State.  Finally, the amendment would clarify that local jurisdictions can change their major/minor definitions for other local zoning and development purposes.

MACo will review the proposed amendment to see if the amendment addresses county concerns.  MACo’s other four areas of concern are:

  1. Removing MDE’s new approval authority over residential subdivision plats, including lot lines and street lines
  2. Removing the authority of MDP and MDE to approve the tiers
  3. Revising the definition and criteria for several of the tiers so that they are based local comprehensive plans and not potentially on State-drawn maps
  4. Removing a new requirement that county comprehensive plans must be drawn around PFAs and PFA “comment areas” if a county adopts the tier system

The Commitee workgroup will meet again in approximately one week and will consider amendments offered by other stakeholders, including MACo.

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