Developers give tentative OK to reforestation bill


ANNAPOLIS -- Developers concerned about the potential cost of an administration bill aimed at conserving Maryland's forests gave their conditional approval of the bill yesterday, but also presented dozens of amendments to make it easier for them to live with it.

"I'm not suggesting it's a bad bill, per se," Alton Scavo, a Rouse Co. spokesman, told the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. "I just think it needs a little melding."

The Rouse Co. submitted 34 suggested amendments, ranging from expanding the definition of planned unit development to lowering the amount of money developers would be required to pay into a state conservation fund from 15 cents per square foot to 4 cents per square foot.

The bill, which was presented by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, is the result of a compromise struck between the administration, developers and conservationists.

It would require developers to submit forest conservation plans for their development sites, and require developers to either plant trees to make up for those destroyed during construction or pay into a conservation fund to plant trees elsewhere in the state.

Already 33 senators, including nine in the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Senator Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, who is one of the Senate's strongest environmental advocates, described the bill as a reasonable compromise.

"We've been fooling around with this issue for three years, and in that three years we've lost several hundred thousand more trees," he said. "It's time we do something."

Last year, a forest conservation bill co-sponsored by Senator Cade and Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel, died on the final day of the General Assembly's session.

During yesterday's hearing, the Maryland Builders Association submitted a packet outlining its opposition and suggesting 44 amendments. One amendment suggests the elimination of a requirement that reforestation be done at the rate of one-half acre for every acre shorn. The association said the requirement was too expensive and would be a disincentive to affordable housing.

Despite the flood of proposed amendments, Senator Winegrad said he believed that a satisfactory bill could be worked out.

"We're going to accommodate people to the extent that we can, but we're not going to gut the bill," he said. "We know that there are amendments that are needed."

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