Shore land exemption proposed Council chairman seeks to amend Critical Areas law


County Council Chairman David Boschert said he will introduce an amendment to the county's proposed Critical Areas law tonight to exempt developers and owners of waterfront property who have begun any infrastructure construction.

County officials told Mr. Boschert late last week that the amendment is unnecessary, because a provision in the new law already exempts applications for building and grading permits accepted by the county before the law goes into effect. The county wants to avoid further delay in implementing the new law, warning that the state could intervene and take over the county's program.

"Our position is that we gave them a perfect bill," said Samuel F. Minnette, an assistant to County Executive Robert R. Neall. "We gave a bill to the County Council that best meets the needs and responds to the deficiencies in our law that the state critical areas commission pointed out to us."

But the council chairman said he will go forward with the amendment because the state Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission has refused to provide assurances that such developments will be exempt. Council members have especially expressed concern that two West River projects, Franklin Point and West River Plantation, should not be delayed. Both have received county approval and have invested heavily in such infrastructure as roads and sewers.

"All I'm asking [the state commission] is to meet us halfway and give us some straight answers on the record," Mr. Boschert said. "What the commission is saying is, 'Pass your bill, pass your amendments, send it to us and we'll determine if it's acceptable.' "

Sarah J. Taylor, executive director of the state commission, said that is exactly what should happen.

The state commission has to supervise 60 critical areas programs, and if it had to respond to every inquiry and amendment as a local jurisdiction is putting its program together, "that would drive us a little nuts," she said.

"We do not review amendments that are purported to be introduced or that might be introduced or that are introduced," Dr. Taylor said. "We do not do that."

Mr. Boschert said he wanted to be able to reassure developers and waterfront property owners who have already made a significant investment in the development of their land.

"I want to safeguard the individual rights of these property owners to go forward," Mr. Boschert said. "I think there's a fear factor out there. You're talking serious money when you're talking about waterfront property."

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb has also expressed doubts about the fairness of the proposed law, if it prohibits some property owners who have already secured county approval from moving ahead with construction.

"I have no intention of weakening the law," she said. "But I do believe in fair play."

The critical areas law governs any development within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries. Any development within a 100-foot buffer of the bay, its tributaries, nesting areas for endangered species and tidal wetlands would not be permitted without a variancegranted by the county's administrative hearing officer. Nontidal wetlands are subject to a 50-foot buffer, twice the state standard.

Mr. Boschert's proposed amendment comes as developers and waterfront property owners are exerting increasing pressure on the council to exempt building projects that have already received approvals for grading or building permits.

Last week, the Anne Arundel Trade Council took out a newspaper ad encouraging property owners to call council members and Mr. Neall to ask for "a more balanced bill."

"We feel this bill is more strict than the state critical areas law, and we don't see any reason why Anne Arundel County should be more strict than anyone else," said Jeanette D. Wessel, executive vice president of the trade council. On Friday, the trade council received about 35 calls in response to the ad, she said.

"My only response to this kind of logic is, 'Why not?' " said James R. Martin Jr., president of the Severn River Association, an environmental group that, along with the Sierra Club, has endorsed the critical areas bill. "We should have a strict program."

The county imposed a moratorium on 188 new grading permits after the state commission invalidated portions of the county program June 9. The state gave the county 90 days to eliminate loopholes that exempted projects from building restrictions.

The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

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