A Howard County press release (2019-10-17) reported that County Executive Calvin Ball has announced a major update to the County’s Forest Conservation Act. The update brings the out-of-date County ordinance into compliance with state law and further strengthens the local regulations. From the press release:
“Our forests are critical to our natural ecosystems, powerful tools in the fight against climate change, and a necessity for human life,” said Ball. “The state of Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act to safeguard our forest resources during land development. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to finally make sure Howard County is not only compliant with this legislation, but that we also go further. We must ensure that the future of development in Howard County is smarter, more transparent, and more environmentally conscious. Today, we take a major step forward to protect our forests and our future.”
The Forest Conservation Act updates include:
- Full compliance with State law through more than a dozen legislative updates, including required on-site retention for champion and specimen trees.
- Increased replanting obligations to ensure developers contribute to reforestation efforts across the entire watershed.
- Improved stewardship of the Green Infrastructure Network (GIN), which maps the most ecologically valuable forests, wetlands, meadows, waterways, and other natural areas as well as the lands that connect them together. The updated will add GIN to retention and reforestation priorities, as well as requiring its inclusion on development plans.
- Added new site design requirements so residential developments must meet 75% of their forest conservation obligations on-site before off¬-site compliance can be considered. Also, nonresidential developments must protect all sensitive areas with Forest Conservation Easements.
- Strengthened fee-in-lieu regulation so a maximum of 1 acre forest obligation can be met through fee-in-lieu in a residential development. Inside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.75 to $1.25 per square foot. Outside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.95 to $1.50 per square foot.
- Tightened variance regulation to limit exceptions. Now, variances will only be granted to applicants meeting the unwarranted hardship standard. Increased costs and inconvenience, including loss of lots, will no longer constitute unwarranted hardship.
Ball’s announcement follows a similar proposal that was introduced in Anne Arundel County by County Executive Steuart Pittman