Neall promises to send council more rigorous critical-area law


County Executive Robert R. Neall said yesterday he will send legislation reforming Anne Arundel's critical-area law to the County Council next week.

The state Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission directed the county last spring to tighten the language of the 5-year-old program designed to control development within a 1,000-foot strip along the bay and its tributaries.

Mr. Neall said yesterday that the proposed legislation would exceed state requirements.

For example, the proposal would require builders to leave a 50-foot buffer around nontidal wetlands, which provide natural filters for nutrients and other pollutants carried by storm water into the bay. The state law requires only a 25-foot buffer.

If trees are cleared during construction within the critical area, property owners would be required to replant trees on the site first. If that were impractical, they could plant trees off-site or pay a predetermined fee.

The revisions also will require "grandfathered" lots -- those approved before Dec. 1, 1985, and exempt from most critical-area provisions -- to avoid construction within 100 feet of the water, unless granted a variance.

Residents protesting the county's approval of projects on the Little Magothy River and on the West River have challenged the county's authority to grant exemptions in Circuit Court.

"If the County Council approves this legislation, I am confident [our] critical-area program -- already recognized as one of the strongest in the state -- will be unsurpassed," Mr. Neall said.

Kent Stow, a Severna Park builder, said he worries that the changes will limit county planners' abilities to tailor environmental safeguards to individual properties.

"Without that flexibility, I'm concerned we could end up doing more harm than good," Mr. Stow said.

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