Maryland Secretary of Planning Richard Hall provided an update on the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236) before the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on January 23. The Secretary provided the perspective of the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) on county efforts to adopt the optional Growth Tiers under the 2012 legislation. Under the 2012 Act, counties that do not adopt the Growth Tiers are no longer able to approve major developments on septic systems — that is, counties that have not yet finalized plans are not in defiance of the state law, but are simply subject to a lesser allowance for development approval than those with adopted plans.
In his presentation before the Senate Committee, Secretary Hall indicated that 12 counties have adopted Growth Tiers. While the law creating the tier system does not grant MDP approval authority over the locally adopted tiers, the Secretary volunteered the Department’s impressions of those adopted. From the 12 counties having submitted their tiers, MDP finds 8 to be acceptable: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Garrett, Harford, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Talbot. Somerset’s plan is currently under review by MDP. He noted that MDP objected to the plans of 3 counties: Allegany, Cecil, and Frederick.
Secretary Hall stated that Cecil and Frederick Counties went beyond the bounds of the law and placed land that should be in Growth Tier 4 (areas dominated by agricultural and forest lands or classified for preservation) in Growth Tier 3 (areas where major subdivisions on septic systems are allowed). He indicated that the MDP concerns with Allegany’s plan “were not nearly at the level of those of Cecil and Frederick” and that MDP was trying to work out their issues. He also expressed concern that some of the counties who have not yet adopted Growth Tiers might be waiting to see what happens to Cecil and Frederick Counties.
The Secretary stated that neither he nor MDP had any enforcement power over counties that MDP believes are not complying with SB 236. (In the earlier House briefing he did acknowledge in response to questions by legislators that the State could impose budgetary penalties against the counties or join in a lawsuit brought by either the Attorney General or a private party.) He also noted that the Governor’s office was reviewing possible responses.
See coverage of the briefing in the Baltimore Sun (limited free views available online).