County panel considers gaps in Critical Area rules


State regulators identified "holes, gaps and omissions" in the county's 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay Critical Area program yesterday that they say keep it from working the way it was intended.

Sarah Taylor, executive director of the state Critical Area Commission, and her staff met with the county's Critical Area Update Committee in Annapolis. The committee, appointed by County Executive Robert R. Neall, is reviewing the county program and will propose amendments this fall.

"Anne Arundel County has always been one of the stalwart supporters of the critical areas Peninsula but had been placed But, in the four years since the state approved the county's program, Ms. Taylor said, the commission has realized that "all that once was thought to be roses and glitter isn't. We have some problems where we feel there are some major gaps."

Anne Hairston, a resource planner with the state commission, said the portion of the county program dealing with "grandfathered" lots -- those those subdivided before the law went into effect in 1988 -- contains a major omission.

Grandfathering is allowed under the state law, exempting lots from certain requirements, such as those limiting the number of trees cut down. However, Ms. Hairston said, the county's grandfathering provision omits certain wildlife habitat protection rules devised by the state.

Although the omission has allowed the county to approve subdivisions it might not have otherwise, Ms. Taylor said that "willy-nilly, blatant violations have not occurred."

Explaining the need for the revisions, Ms. Taylor said interpretations of some provisions by both the county and the state have changed.

Anne Arundel County is not unique in being asked to review and revise its program. All 60 counties and towns which have critical area programs are being asked to do it.

The update committee, which consists of developers, attorneys and conservationists, also heard yesterday from two former county planning officers, Florence B. Kurdle and Thomas Osborne, who drafted the county's program.

Both agreed they tried to be as sensitive to individual property rights as the law would allow.

"I had people meeting me time and time again in tears," Mr. Osborne said. "I likened it to someone taking my house. That was the intent of the legislation; it changed the property rights you had, adding "that if everyone understood what that [Critical Area] legislation did, I don't think it would have been enacted."

Ms. Kurdle said the county deliberately exempted the 13 major and 28 minor subdivisions that were approved for the Broadneck Peninsula but had been placed on a waiting list for sewer service.

She said it would have been unfair to require those developers to go through the review process again.

Vernon Gingell, a Fairhaven resident, expressed frustration with such thinking.

"So many times in this committee, I hear the county saying nothing about what we did for the environment," Mr. Gingell said.

"It's always property rights. Protecting property rights is good, obviously, but I never heard [Ms. Kurdle] or Tom [Osborne] say, 'and will be helping the environment too.' "

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