Officials may alter forest law Activists fear county ordinance will be weakened


Coni and David Humphrey have had to watch as beautiful old chestnut and walnut trees were bulldozed and burned this fall to make way for a subdivision around their house on WTTR Lane in Westminster.

But it won't happen again, Mrs. Humphrey tells friends, now that Carroll County has a forest conservation ordinance.

In fact, it could happen again even though the ordinance encourages developers to preserve wooded tracts. But the Carroll County Board of Commissioners is considering changes in the law that the local "green" community fears will make it easier for developers to clear trees from land they are subdividing.

Commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy deny that they plan to weaken the county ordinance. But Mrs. Gouge says the commissioners "have to be practical."

She serves on a task force that is studying the state forest conservation law, and she plans to look at problem areas in both state and county laws identified in written comments she solicited.

Mrs. Gouge refuses to say whom she asked for comment.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell wants to kill the ordinance, which would bring Carroll County under the state law that some see as less restrictive for developers. "This is an agricultural county. If you want to stop growing corn and grow trees, where's the benefit?" Mr. Dell says.

The benefits that the Humphreys saw in the trees were habitats for deer, pheasants and birds; privacy; shade and cooling; reduced erosion; and reduced pollution, because trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. "It was lovely and pristine and green," Mrs. Humphrey says of the area.

Years ago, a group called Timber Ridge Bassets sponsored hunts there. "But, of course, that's gone and that's happening all over Carroll County," she says.

When the bulldozer operators began leveling trees for Furnace Hills and the adjacent Eagleview Estates, neighbors called City Hall to ask what happened to the forest conservation law.

Both Eagleview and the 141-unit section of the Furnace Hills subdivision under construction around the Humphreys' 19th century farmhouse are exempt from the ordinance. The subdivisions were approved before the law went into effect in January.

Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey credit Furnace Hills developer Martin K. P. Hill with transplanting six trees and installing a chain-link fence around the couple's five-acre property. But they are saddened by the destruction of trees.

If Furnace Hills Section 2 had been subject to the conservation law, "What we might have been able to do is retain most of the trees around their [the Humphreys'] property," says Neil Ridgely, county program manager for landscaping and forest conservation. "But not out in the middle. We probably would have ended up off-site with reforestation."

Mr. Ridgely explained that if developers cannot retain forested areas, the ordinance allows them to plant equivalent acreage in trees on the same property or at another site in the county. The law encourages developers to retain forested tracts because replacement is usually more expensive.

The county commissioners all say they have not been lobbied by special interests that are seeking changes in the ordinance.

Mr. Lippy says the governor's task force review of the state law provided the impetus for the commissioners to examine the county ordinance.

Sections of the ordinance targeted for change by the commissioners include:

Trees, not fees

Mrs. Gouge and Mr. Lippy want to allow developers to donate money to a town for street trees rather than having to replace stands of trees they cut down.

Mr. Lippy says he is "edging toward" supporting a change that rTC would allow developers to pay fees in lieu of planting replacement trees. The state forest conservation law allows developers to pay 10 cents per square foot of cleared land into a state replanting fund.

Frank Grabowski, chairman of the committee that drafted the county ordinance, says Carroll's fee would have to be $1 a square foot to make a tree-replacement program self-supporting.

"If the county were to adopt that [state fee], they would end up taking money out of the county coffers," he said.

Developer David Bullock tried in April to donate money to New Windsor for street trees instead of replacing trees he will destroy to build a 35-unit retirement village on five acres. The county Environmental Affairs Advisory Board rejected the idea.

"A tree is a tree, even if it's not in a forest," Mr. Lippy says. He says he would require the developer's payment to equal the cash value of trees that are taken down.

It's not the same, says Mr. Grabowski. "The ordinance and the state law are for forest conservation, not tree conservation."

Trees along Main Street won't nurture the undergrowth and diversity of habitat that a forest does, Mr. Grabowski says.

"A forest provides far greater benefits and pollution reduction than individual trees," he says.

Forest protection easements

OC The ordinance requires permanent protected status for forest re

maining on subdivided land, additional trees planted to meet requirements for increased forested acreage and replacement forest for stands of trees cut down for the subdivision.

Mrs. Gouge says the permanent easement "really is restrictive and reduces the value of the property."

Mr. Grabowski says that although he is not a specialist in the field, he does not understand why banks would balk at the easement, because it does not affect the property's zoning or development potential.

Replanting requirements

Mrs. Gouge is looking at ways to, in her words, "make sure farmland is not going to be chewed up and trees planted on it."

She says she doesn't yet have a specific plan. But the written comments she received included several predictions that the ordinance will make it easier for developers to put subdivisions on farmland rather than on wooded tracts.

Declaration of intent

This section bars landowners from subdividing acreage for seven years where they have cut down trees under an exemption from the ordinance, such as for farming.

"You should be able to harvest your lumber without having to declare it to some bureaucracy," Mr. Dell says.

He says he has about 40 acres of woods on his farm, but does not plan to subdivide it.

Mount Airy planner Teresa Bamberger, a member of the ordinance committee, says the declaration of intent serves an important function.

"Without that, there would be no way to prevent land from being cleared for farming and then two years later [the owner] sells it to a developer," she says.

The Westminster City Council has discussed withdrawing from the county ordinance if the commissioners weaken it to a level the council considers unacceptable.

The city can legally adopt its own law but chose to be governed by the county law.

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