Local efforts to preserve Carroll's forests may be in jeopardy because developers -- particularly one -- have pressured the county commissioners, some involved in the efforts contend.
Today the commissioners are expected to decide whether to support a forest conservation law drafted by a county citizens group or one written by the state.
Developers -- the most visible being Carroll's largest, Martin K.P. Hill of Manchester -- support the state law, which they say is less stringent than Carroll's and would be less costly to follow.
Some supporters of the county law say Mr. Hill has impeded the process in looking out for his own interest.
Mr. Hill, who has built about 1,800 Carroll homes in the past 21 years, has at least two developments, in Eldersburg and Hampstead, that county officials said could be affected by forest conservation.
Mr. Hill, however, said both have received preliminary approval and would not be affected by the law.
"I don't have a personal ax to grind," he said.
His building company, Masonry Contractors Inc., has sales of $29 million a year, he said yesterday. He also builds homes in Frederick and Howard counties and Pennsylvania.
"Marty Hill is not an ogre. He's not a venal person. But Marty Hill is a capitalist. Marty Hill is in the business of making every buck he can make," Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said.
"It's not right to give any special interest greater access than is given to the general public. That's what's going on at the County Office Building.
"You may as well have an office with Marty Hill's name on it in the county," the mayor said.
At stake for Mr. Hill and other developers is how they go about clearing land for development.
Last week, Commissioner President Donald I. Dell appeared to be leaning toward supporting the state law when he expressed concerns about the proposed county law at a staff meeting.
Local governments are required to either adopt the state plan or develop one of their own that is at least as stringent as the state's.
This week, Mr. Dell said the consensus of public opinion is that the county plan is better, but he is undecided about which plan he will support. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she is undecided, and Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he "emphatically" supports the county law.
During the past year and a half, Mr. Hill or his staff have voiced opinions to the commissioners in letters and at public hearings, work sessions and at staff meetings.
Last spring, as the commissioners were ready to appoint a homebuilder to the committee, Mr. Brown argued against special-interest representation. The proper time for special-interest groups to comment was at public hearings, he said.
Still, the commissioners named Thomas M. Ballentine, assistant director for government affairs at the Home Builders Association of Maryland, to the committee after county staffer Neil Ridgely quit the committee in protest on March 18.
Mr. Ridgely, Carroll's program manager for landscaping and forest conservation, said Mr. Hill had interfered in the process.
On March 9, Mr. Hill wrote a letter to Mr. Lippy accusing county staff members of "using omissions, half truths and outright falsehoods" to oppose the state ordinance.
Mr. Ridgely said yesterday that the homebuilders have had too much input: "Their harangue can be burdensome."
Frank Grabowski, a Westminster engineer who chaired the committee, said Mr. Hill should not have been allowed to comment after the public record on the ordinance was closed in October.
"He has spoken at meetings where he should have been there to witness, not to partake," Mr. Grabowski said. "Those meetings are open -- I think not for public participation but for public witness."
Mr. Hill and his assistant James Piet regularly attended meetings with commissioners and their staff members on the proposed law. Mr. Hill sometimes sat at the work table with the commissioners and made comments. The developer often was the only person at the meetings who was not a county staff member or news reporter.
Mr. Hill said yesterday he made comments only when asked. It's the commissioners' decision to allow comments from the public at staff meetings, he said.
"I am doing it as a representative of the industry," he added.
The president of the Carroll County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland agreed.
"Marty is representing builders, all builders," said Jeffrey Powers, a Westminster builder. "The issues he raised have been beneficial to all concerned. A lot of our input was taken to heart."
Teresa Bamberger, Mount Airy town planner and a member of the committee, said she and other town representatives who support the local law haven't been able to attend staff meetings.
"I'm frustrated that we don't have the time," she said. "If there's an imbalance in representation in interested parties -- that's why. It's not for lack of interest on our part."
Mrs. Bamberger and others argue that developers don't have the best interests of the public at heart.
"I have yet to have a plan come through where there's been much of an attempt to save existing vegetation," she said. "It tells me there's not a whole lot of attention given by developers. If they're not going to make the effort on their own, we need the regulation."
Under the county's proposed law, anyone who disturbs 25,000 square feet or more of land would be required to draft a plan to replace any trees felled during development.
Also, the county law would require developers to plant trees in certain areas, such as agriculturally zoned land, where they did not previously exist.
Mr. Hill and other developers have argued that the latter would harm agricultural land use in the county. The state's aforestation requirements would be less severe, they argue. Aforestation is planting trees where there weren't any before.
The state law also allows developers to pay 10 cents per square foot of land cleared instead of planting trees. Carroll's proposed law does not contain that provision.
"At this point, the county and the state [laws] are very similar," Mr. Hill said. "The major difference between the two is that the county draft has a significant impact on land values of those properties that are wooded."
He said the county law places the burden and expense of reforestation on the owners of wooded lots. The state's law, he said, eases that burden and spreads it more evenly over various land uses.
Both county and state officials have said Carroll's law is at the same time less stringent and more stringent than the state's.
In some high-residential density zoning areas, for instance, the state plan would require developers to preserve or plant more acres of trees than the Carroll ordinance. In some commercial zoning, developers in Carroll would be required to plant or preserve more trees than they would under the state plan.
"By directing our efforts at saving existing forests, we'll maintain the atmosphere of Carroll County," Mr. Grabowski said. "One of the things people moved here for was the diversity of land use, the mixture of forest and farms."
About 23 percent of Carroll is forested. The county has the lowest percentage of forest cover in Maryland, state officials said.
Joe Barley, a forester and committee member, said the committee's proposal is balanced.
"To turn around and reverse the direction that they provided is very perplexing to me. I think they [the commissioners] ought to be held accountable to it. It shows a certain amount of disrespect to the people who spent so much time working on the ordinance," he said.
Jeff Horan, a regional forester who has been involved in implementing the state plan, declined to comment specifically on Carroll's possible change in direction.
"We want this thing to work at the local level," Mr. Horan said. "We want it to be an effective program and not a burdensome program. We don't want to create more red tape."
Committee members believe they have created a less-complicated, less-bureaucratic program.
County staffers are familiar with Mr. Hill's persistence.
About five years ago, Mr. Hill gave Franklin G. Schaeffer, chief of the county's Bureau of Development Review, a framed picture containing this quote from Mr. Hill:
"I just keep banging on the door until I get what I came for."
Chronology of Proposed Forest Conservation Plan
April 1991: The General Assembly passes the Maryland Forest Conservation Act designed to maintain the state's existing forest. The act requires local governments to develop their own programs that are at least as stringent as the state's or to adopt the state plan.
July 1991: Carroll commissioners appoint a Forest Conservation Subcommittee of the Environmental Affairs Advisory Board to write a draft forest conservation ordinance.
November-December 1991: The subcommittee finishes a first draft, and members are surprised that the commissioners are considering adopting the state plan. Some members express concerns that the commissioners could bow to pressure from developers.
Dec. 23, 1991: Commissioners vote unanimously to continue work on the county ordinance.
March 18, 1992: Neil Ridgely, the county's program manager for landscaping and forest conservation, resigns from the subcommittee, saying Manchester developer Martin K.P. Hill is interfering with the process.
March 24, 1992: Commissioners appoint Thomas M. Ballentine, assistant director for government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, and Teresa Bamberger, Mount Airy's town planner, to the subcommittee.
April 1992: The subcommittee submits a draft ordinance to the state for conditional approval.
September 1992: Commissioners remove a requirement from the draft ordinance to charge developers who fail to replace cut down trees 50 cents for each square foot of land cleared. Subcommittee members object.
Late September 1992: County officials sponsored two public workshops to answer questions about the proposed ordinance. The state gives Carroll's draft conditional approval.
Oct. 5, 1992: Commissioners take comments at a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Homebuilders' representatives urge the commissioners to adopt the state ordinance.
Nov. 2, 1992: Commissioner President Donald I. Dell questions whether the proposed county ordinance should be approved. An assistant county attorney advises the commissioners that if they want to adopt the state law, they'll have to have another public hearing.
Today: Commissioners are expected to decide whether to adopt the county ordinance.