The Harford County Council, along with Pete Gutwald, the county's planning and zoning director, blasted the state's new sustainable growth act Tuesday night for taking away private property rights and trying to control local land use planning.
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act would require Harford to divide the county into four land use tiers and would prohibit the county from having major subdivisions, or anything larger than five lots, in Tier 4, which covers about 175,000 acres of the most rural land – the majority of the county.
On another 6 percent of Harford land, called Tier 3, property owners would only be able to have subdivisions bigger than five lots with approval from the planning advisory board.
Gutwald presented the county's requirements for fulfilling the act, which was passed this year by the Maryland General Assembly.
Several council members said they were deeply concerned about the state mandate and hoped to mitigate it by revising the definitions of the tiers or other methods.
"This is huge for landowners in northern Harford County. The state is basically taking away 50 percent of the value on their property," Council President Billy Boniface said.
"Greater than 50 percent," Gutwald responded.
Councilman Chad Shrodes said there could be other tools for preserving land while saving property rights.
"This is really going to hit the farming communities down my way," Shrodes said. "This is their asset. This is their equity."
"I know it's not you," he told Gutwald. "I know it's the state."
"It's really taking a lot away from them," he added. "This is eminent domain without just compensation."
Gutwald said regardless of any changes the council might propose, the reality is the next version of the county's land use map must include the tier map.
He did say the proposal takes over what has been the local government's responsibility.
"It is taking what is generally a local jurisdiction role and [county] government has been circumvented by the state process," he said.
Councilman Joe Woods replied jokingly: "So we are not going to need you anymore?"
Gutwald said he has heard of some other counties that are opposed to the legislation, but he believes they do not intend to fight it.
"The reality is, the state does have certain controls over what happens to you, if you do nothing," he said.
He explained Maryland is "really under the gun" to reduce pollution loads into the Chesapeake Bay and has more at stake than other states.
"We are at the epicenter, if you will, of the Chesapeake Bay, so people are looking to the State of Maryland: 'What are you doing, since it's in your backyard?'" he said.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, a member of the state's sustainable growth committee, said although the council is calling everything a "mandate," there are options in the legislation.