Gary seeks streamlining of development rules for shoreline


Anne Arundel County is poised to streamline its rules governing development along its extensive shoreline.

County Executive John G. Gary has asked the County Council to approve a new "buffer exemption" program that would eliminate much of the red tape now required of waterfront homeowners who want to build decks or other additions.

But the program would not relax environmental standards or "loosen the reins so that we'll have development willy-nilly along the waterfront," said county spokeswoman Lisa Ritter during a news briefing yesterday.

The council is scheduled to consider the program, which was introduced as legislation Monday night, at its Aug. 7 meeting.

Joseph J. Elbrich Jr., the county's long-range and environmental planning administrator, said yesterday that the program would help 100 to 150 homeowners a year avoid lengthy and expensive hearings before an administrative hearing officer. Instead, if their homes are within an exempt area, they would go through a dramatically shorter review when they apply for building permits, Mr. Elbrich said.

The program would exempt about 36 percent, or 160 miles of the county's shoreline, including 450 vacant lots along the waterfront.

The exemptions would apply only to the 100-foot buffer along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and only to lots subdivided before 1985, Mr. Elbrich said. That was the year the Maryland General Assembly created a 1,000-foot protected zone, known as the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area. The critical area includes the buffer.

Homeowners and others still would have to comply with other critical area rules protecting steep slopes, wetlands, woodlands and wildlife habitat within and outside the 100-foot buffer, Mr. Elbrich said.

About three-quarters of the county's 447-mile shoreline was developed before the critical area rules limiting waterfront development were adopted.

Anne Arundel was one of the first counties to adopt a critical area enforcement program in 1988. But the state Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission censured the county in June 1993, saying its rules were confusing and open-ended. At the time, the county required homeowners and developers whose lots were subdivided before 1985 to comply "insofar as possible." The interpretation of that standard was left to county planners.

To bring its enforcement program into line with state law, county officials required homeowners to go through administrative hearings that can last three to four months.

Planners also began to draft the buffer exemption program, an immense task that involved mapping the county's entire shoreline. Mr. Elbrich said the mapping was completed last week.

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