Fragile Lower Shore Residential Market Tied To State Policies

An article in DelmarvaNow connects state policies, currently amidst debate in the General Assembly, with the shaky residential building market in the lower Eastern Shore. From the article:

The legislature is weighing whether to reinstate a regulation requiring most rural homes to come equipped with high-tech septic systems that remove nitrogen but cost about $7,500 more than traditional ones. The requirement was in effect for four years before Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration reduced its scope last year to lands within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, including the Chesapeake and Atlantic coastal bays.

Another bill, sponsored by the Hogan administration, promises to bring some relief to the Lower Shore’s home-building sector, which hasn’t fully recovered from the housing market crash nearly a decade ago. It would allow low- and moderate-income rural home buyers to tap into existing Department of Housing and Community Development’s grant programs to offset the cost of installing fire sprinkler systems.

Critics of the 2015 sprinkler requirement say it all but halts affordable housing in its tracks, particularly in rural areas. The systems start at about $6,000 for small homes, experts say. Those on well water may need to add a pump and tank, adding another $3,500 to the bill.

Taken together, the septic tank rule and fire sprinkler mandate have hobbled an already weak home-building market, rural lawmakers say.

MACo has weighed in on these issues, citing similar economic arguments. MACo’s testimony on HB 281, the bill to reinstate the “best available technology” (BAT) septic mandate statewide, says:

This broad-based BAT septic system mandate is not: (1) supported by science; (2) cost-effective; and (3) necessarily the best method to address local water quality and the small amount of nitrogen that BAT systems would allegedly reduce.

Both topics – the septic system mandate outside the defined Critical Area, and the proposals to offset sprinkler mandate costs – remain unresolved before the General Assembly with about six weeks remaining in the session.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties