1000 Friends Issues Report Critical of Counties Septic Tier Efforts

On November 27 1000 Friends of Maryland released an evaluation of county efforts in mapping Growth Tiers and protecting rural lands under the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236).  The results are also summarized in a postcard format.  From the evaluation:

1000 Friends looked at how effectively each county is working to keep our farm and forest areas of Maryland rural.  At stake is the possible loss of over 400,000 acres of rural land if current development trends don’t change.  So who is working to preserve rural land and who is not?

1000 Friends used three main criteria in judging county efforts to preserve rural land:  (1) the county’s rural zoning; (2) the county’s effort in establishing Growth Tiers under SB 236; and (3) whether a county has increased the number of building lots under its definition of minor subdivision, as allowed by SB 236.  The evaluation does not consider county land preservation efforts or most other rural protections beyond zoning.

The evaluation critiques each county’s efforts, excluding Baltimore City.  Out of the 23 counties reviewed, 1000 Friends determined that 4 counties have strong rural protections, 11 have moderate to good rural protections, 5 have weak rural protections, and 3 have extremely poor rural protections.  As the Growth Tier designation process is ongoing, a county’s final ranking could change based on its final Growth Tier map.

A November 27 Baltimore Sun article also reported on the 1000 Friends evaluation:

1000 Friends of Maryland says that more than a third of the state’s 23 counties have done little or nothing so far to comply with the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, which aims to restrict new housing on septic systems in rural areas.

“What we have are eight counties that are in the red zone,” says Dru Schmidt-Perkins, the Friends executive director. “They are not doing what they need to do in order to preserve rural lands, and seven of those are high-growth counties, which is of concern.”  …

Schmidt-Perkins, though, said that the lack of state enforcement in the law is “a big problem.”  If counties don’t get in line with the law, she said, green groups may revive their call for holding sprawling localities “accountable” by cutting off state funding for roads, schools and other infrastructure and services that tend to degrade waterways and cost taxpayers more than when development is more concentrated.

The article also cites MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp:

Leslie Knapp Jr., legal and policy counsel for the Maryland Association of Counties, said that counties generally are trying to follow the state law as they finalize their growth maps, though he acknowledged that local elected officials are “frustrated” by this and other mandates from Annapolis imposing costly environmental regulations and Chesapeake Bay restoration obligations on their communities.

Even if some counties do bend the growth law, he said, the end result will still be significant restrictions statewide on development using septic systems. And besides, he pointed out, the state is moving to require less polluting, more costly septic systems on all new construction wherever it is.

The second quoted statement of Mr. Knapp does not entirely reflect Mr. Knapp’s position, which is that while SB 236 does grant some flexibility to counties in drafting their Growth Tier maps, there are various checks that will prevent a county from going outside the bounds of the law.  SB 236, along with other initiatives such as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and regulations that require all new septic systems to use best available nitrogen removal technology, will lead to a reduction development on septic systems.

The article also notes that the Maryland Department of Planning does not intend to take a public position on a county’s Growth Tier map until the final maps are submitted.

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