New state law limits development rights on rural land

Thousands of Harford County landowners will see their ability to develop their property significantly reduced by a new state law that furthers Maryland's Smart Growth policies.

At least 170,000 acres outside the development envelope, or 72 percent of the county, will be affected by the bill, which was passed this year by the Maryland General Assembly as the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act.

The County Council will attempt to soften the blow to landowners sometime this fall, Council President Billy Boniface said last week.

Under the law, Harford County must create a map with four land use tiers, which are based on specific criteria and identify where major and minor subdivisions can be established, as well as what type of sewage systems can serve them, by Dec. 31.

The county will no longer be allowed to have major subdivisions, or anything larger than five lots, in Tier 4, which covers most of the county.

Tier 4 includes parks; land protected by agricultural, MET and MHT Easements; priority Preservation Areas and Rural Legacy Areas (overriding all underlying RR zonings within the PPA except for rural villages; including Deer Creek Priority Preservation Area and Manor Rural Legacy); parcels zoned AG (except in the development envelope and the AG zoned parcels that were included in Tier 3); and parcels zoned B1, B2, B3, CI, GI and LI outside of designated growth areas.

About 175,000 acres are in Tier 4, the area most heavily affected by the legislation, Janet Gleisner, chief of land use and transportation planning, said Tuesday.

"It's everything outside the development envelope," Gleisner said about what will be affected.

On Tier 3, which covers just 6 percent of Harford, property owners can only have subdivisions larger than five lots, if granted a recommendation from the planning advisory board.

Tier 3 includes parcels zoned RR, VR or VB; priority funding areas outside of the development envelope served by septic; rural villages; and parcels zoned AG, but entirely surrounded by Tier 3 designations.

Tiers 1 and 2 would not be affected by the legislation.

Tier 1, about 13 percent of the county, covers all parcels currently designated as S1 in the County's Water and Sewerage Master Plan, including Spring Meadows in Jarrettsville and portions of the Whiteford/Cardiff Rural Village.

Tier 2, about 8 percent, includes parcels within the Development Envelope that are not served by a public sewerage system, but are planned for service as noted in the County's Water and Sewerage Master Plan.

Gleisner also said the county will have little ability to alter these plans, as the law is a state mandate.

"We have very limited flexibility in what we can do," she said.

The bill is meant to reduce the impacts of large residential subdivisions with septic systems on farms, forest lands, streams, rivers and the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, according to a recent press release.

More information is available on the county's planning and zoning department's website, at

The site explains the criteria used to create the four tiers and an interactive map where landowners can check the designation for their property.

Besides the four tiers, the county must also adopt definitions for minor and major subdivisions by Dec. 31.

Questions or concerns should be addressed to Janet Gleisner in the Department of Planning and Zoning at or at 410-638-3230 by Sept. 28.

After that, County Executive David Craig and the County Council will be taking action to ensure that Harford County addresses the requirements of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, according to the press release.

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