The administration of Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall urged the County Council last night to adopt a new shoreline protection program despite pleas from developers and property owners to eliminate draconian restrictions.
Assistant County Attorney Jamie Insley said the county is running out of time before the state intervenes and imposes its own program on the county.
Although the county initially set out to update its existing five-year-old Critical Area program as part of a state-mandated, four-year review, "events have overtaken us," Mrs. Insley testified during a council hearing on the new shoreline protection program.
The state's Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission invalidated portions of the county's existing program on June 9 and gave the county 90 days to eliminate loopholes that exempted certain projects from the rules.
The county also has interpreted the panel's ruling to mean that it cannot issue any grading or building permits within portions of the Critical Area -- a 1,000-foot strip along the bay and its tributaries -- known as habitat protection areas. Those habitat areas include anything within 100 feet of the water, nontidal wetlands and nesting areas for endangered species.
Since the county imposed the moratorium, 188 building and grading permit applications that affect thousands of buildable lots have been denied, said Frank Ward, director of the county's Permit Application Center.
The Anne Arundel County Homebuilders Association and the Anne Arundel Trade Council asked the council to consider easing some restrictions and expanding "grandfathering" provisions that would allow certain projects to move forward under the existing rules.
In particular, the developers of two West River projects -- Franklin Point and West River Plantation -- complained that they should not come under the new rules.
Both projects have been in the design and approval pipeline for several years.
"Not to grandfather someone in this situation is akin to telling someone who built in the Critical Area 50 years ago, 'I'm sorry, we're expanding the buffer, please move out and tear your house down,' " said Bill Pitcher, a lobbyist for Lovell Land Inc., which is developing West River Plantation.
The new provisions have the support of environmentalists, including the Severn River Commission and the Sierra Club. Many cautioned that expanding grandfathering under the new provisions may re-create some of the conflicts with state law that initially placed the county in a bind.
The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission directed the county in April 1992 to tighten the language of its shoreline protection program, listing 22 conflicts with the state Critical Area law. The panel slowly has increased pressure on the county to resolve the discrepancies ever since.
After a year of negotiations, the 23-member commission last month officially declared as deficient two provisions in the county program, giving Anne Arundel 90 days to close the loopholes. If the county does not, the commission could ask the courts to enforce its ruling.
Commission Chairman John C. North II said the panel took a stand because the county's new provisions failed to close all of the loopholes.
Other commission members and some county officials said the ruling was aimed at controversial projects on the Little Magothy and West rivers.