The County Council voted 7-0 in favor of a tree preservation law that will require developers and the county government to replace trees they cut down for development.

Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, a key sponsor of the bill, said the measure, which included 29 amendments, is a major environmental step for Harford.

"With more trees kept on the sites, we'll be able to prevent erosion problems and protect animals' habitat," said Pierno. "I think it's great."

Wayne Merkel, acting regional director for the state Department of Natural Resources, also praised the final version of the county bill.

"We've been losing a lot of forest land to urbanization and housing developments," said Merkel. "This will require developers to plan for trees from the beginning of the construction process and I think this will work."

But Frank Hertsch, a lawyer with Venable, Baetjer and Howard in Bel Air, said he thinks the county bill will have unforeseen repercussions.

"The most objectionable requirement is the retention requirements in high-density development areas," Hertsch said, referring to a provision in the bill requiring developers to retain a certain percentage of trees on a project site. The percentage of trees to be retained is determined by the density of the development.

"You're letting happenstance -- where the trees happento be or where the farmer has happened to clear the land -- control planning," said Hertsch.

He predicted the law may cause problems in 10 years when homeowners try to cut down trees developers left or planted on their property.

"If you want to cut down trees and put in a swimming pool, I'm not sure it's just a question of getting a building permit from the planning and zoning department. You'll have to get planning and zoning's permission to take the trees down," Hertschsaid. "People aren't used to that, and I don't think anyone's thought that far ahead."

The bill, which awaits the signature of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, will take effect Dec. 31 -- one year ahead of a state tree preservation bill passed by the 1991 General Assembly.

Harford's bill, like the state bill, requires developers to reforest at a rate of a quarter-acre of trees for every acre of treescut down on lots 40,000 square feet or larger.

Single lots are exempt from the reforestation requirement.

But in some ways, the county's version of the tree preservation law is more strict than the state bill.

For example, Harford will require reforestation within one to two growing seasons after each phase of a residential or commercial-industrial development is completed.

The state law will require reforestation to be complete within one or two years after an entire project is done.

Harford's bill also will:

* Give developerscredits for trees planted in flood plains and Natural Resource Districts, areas of land deemed environmentally-sensitive;

* Require developers to plant trees if the number of trees on their development site fails to meet a set percentage -- a requirement known as aforestation.

The bill does allow exemptions from reforestation or aforestation if:

* A preliminary subdivision plan is approved on or before Dec. 31;

* A building permit is issued on or before Dec. 31;

* A grading permit is issued on or before Dec. 31.

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