Homes on septic systems produce an average of 10 times more nitrogen pollution than homes on public sewer, according to state data.

Howard's three Republican state lawmakers, who represent most rural parts of the county in District 9, also voted against the bill.

"I saw it as taking away somebody's value and property without just compensation," West Friendship Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman said.

Howard County Farm Bureau President Howie Feaga said the septic law is "a little hard to swallow" given all the things farmers have done to limit pollution in the Bay, such as follow nutrient management plans and soil conservation management best practices.

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"It seems like we just don't quite get the credit we deserve," he said.

Kittleman said he's disappointed the county has designated such a larger area of the county as Tier IV. But he's not surprised so many property owners have applied for grandfathering.

"They really have put farmers in a very difficult position," Kittleman said, noting if his family's farm in West Friendship was not already protected through the county's agricultural land preservation program, they would have been forced to apply for grandfathering to protect their property rights.

'A lot of pressure'

Each jurisdiction is eventually required to incorporate the growth tiers in their comprehensive plans, but the law allows them to adopt the tiers administratively to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

Howard County is currently updating its General Plan, which it only does once every 10 years or so. McLaughlin said the administration included the tier proposal in the plan to avoid "waiting another decade" and serve as a "good way to make sure it was properly vetted."

However council members, who have said they are hoping to pass legislation adopting the General Plan update before their August recess, have the option to leave the tiers out of the plan and add them in later.

Regardless of what method the council chooses, it's clear they will need some convincing if they are going to stick with current tier proposal.

Council member Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, told McLaughlin the administration needs to prove the benefits for the greater good outweigh "the pain that you're causing for the property owners in that area."

Fox suggested switching the roughly 7,000 acres of rural residential land protected from development through various easements in Tier III with the roughly 8,000 acres of unprotected rural conservation land in Tier IV.

Asked if the state, which is responsible for commenting on the tiers the county submits, would give a favorable review to such an approach, Hall said only putting land already protected from development in Tier IV would defeat the purpose of the bill.