A hearing officer's recommendations that grading and storm water management proposals be given to the Soil Conservation District early in the review process might make it tougher for people to build on environmentally sensitive property in Anne Arundel County.
Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox said it "makes sense" for the conservation district to get storm water plans early. Mr. Wilcox, who rules on whether and how much to bend land-use regulations, said he needs the information to decide on variances for sites that merit environmental protection.
Soil conservation engineer James Stein agreed with Mr. Wilcox's proposal.
"It's a good thing, and we would like to have the opportunity" to review grading and storm water plans early in the process, he said. "I would like to see it in the Critical Area or in areas that have wetlands adjacent to them."
Others, however, said requiring grading plans would make the variance process more expensive. Mr. Wilcox countered by saying the money would be wasted only if the variance was denied and the owner did not appeal. The county's permit center requires a detailed grading plan for a grading permit.
Steven Cover, the county's chief of planning and code enforcement, would have to approve Mr. Wilcox's recommendations before they could become law. Mr. Cover did not return phone calls yesterday.
By law, all land within 100 feet of tidal water is designed a "critical area" and cannot be disturbed. But hundreds of building lots were platted before waterfront protection laws and owners now need variances to build on those sites.
Under the current variance process, the SCD rules on a general variance plan. The agency can comment again when the land owner seeks a grading permit, but by then a variance may have been issued.
The issue of when grading plans should be reviewed arose during a February hearing on Ann Leocha's request to build two houses on wooded property that slopes down to the marshy edge of Lake Ogleton in Annapolis Roads. Amid challenges from nearby residents, she combined two small lots into one of about 35,090 square feet because neither lot met county size requirements. She also scaled back the project to only one house.
In a May 12 letter, the SCD approved the variances. But in June 1 comments on the grading permit, SCD engineers said the plans were "unacceptable." A revised variance plan blessed by SCD went to county officials Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Mr. Wilcox's hearing yesterday.
It was the fifth variance plan Mrs. Leocha submitted. Yesterday's hearing ended amicably after opponents of earlier plans hammered out an agreement with the property owners.
In February Mr. Wilcox chastised county reviewers and Mrs. Leocha's engineers for missing several errors in plans that had been submitted. He threatened to deny future variances to anyone who submitted sloppy plans. He made good on his threat last Friday.
Kathleen Bowers and Margaret and Valentine Schiller sought to build a house on a wooded slope next to Martins Cove, near Annapolis. A hand-drawn site plan submitted in April had questionable measurements.
A professionally prepared one submitted a month later omitted the mean high water line, a crucial measurement. Last week, the county Health Department told Mr. Wilcox that the proposed septic system site had not been approved and would not be approved because drain fields were by steep slopes.
"This hearing officer is not satisfied that all of the information necessary to make this decision has been provided," Mr. Wilcox wrote in rejecting the request.