The Howard County Farm Bureau has voted to support County Council legislation on the designation of growth tiers required by state law, putting more pressure on County Executive Ken Ulman as he mulls a veto on the bill.
Switching its position on the legislation, the farm bureau voted Thursday to unanimously support the council's designation of growth tiers, which had drawn criticism from both Ulman and the Maryland Department of Planning last week.
The bureau had voted to support the administration's map in October, before it had been amended.
Farm Bureau President Howie Feaga said Thursday was the first time the bureau had an opportunity to see the council's map.
In a letter to Ulman notifying him of the board's new position, Feaga wrote, "We (farm bureau) think the bill was properly deliberated and thoughtfully created with the adoption of the amended map."
Ulman last week called the County Council's decision "unfortunate" and pointed to the farm bureau's initial support in defense of his administration's map.
Ulman was unavailable to discuss the farm bureau's vote Monday, but issued the following statement through communications director David Nitkin: "I continue to believe the map adopted last week does not offer enough protection to Howard County's agricultural community or to the Chesapeake Bay, and I look forward to working with farmers and others on a better plan."
Asked when Ulman will make a decision on vetoing the bill, Nitkin said "we'll have more to say later this week."
An Ulman veto or decision to not sign a council bill would mark the first time he has done either during his six-year tenure as county executive.
The County Council could override an Ulman veto with the support of four of the five council members. County Council member Courtney Watson was the lone representative to vote against the council's growth tiers map last week.
The county is required to define growth tiers designating development levels under state legislation (SB 236) intended to limit the number of septic systems statewide to preserve the Chesapeake Bay. Levels range from Tier I, the most developed are with public services, to Tier IV, which is zoned for agriculture and conservation.
The map approved by the council designates parcels in western Howard County that are currently designated as priority preservation areas as Tier IV. Already developed residential parcels and uncommited parcels that abut those properties are designated as Tier III.
A map proposed by the Ulman administration designates more land as Tier IV by naming properties zoned rural conservation as Tier IV with rural residential properties designated as Tier III.
Some county farmers have argued that designating their property Tier IV would eliminate much of their land's value because they would no longer have the option of selling it for development.
County council member Greg Fox, the council's lone Republican who represents western Howard County, said he was "very pleased" to see the Farm Bureau support the council's map.
If Ulman would like to help county farmers, Fox suggested he work to help about a dozen farmers receive a refund for the thousands of dollars spent trying to preserve their development rights through a grandfathering process.
Fox said the council's map has the potential to save more than 1,200 acres that were nearly pushed into development through grandfathering by "fear of government regulations."