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Anne Arundel executive will try again to close forest clearing loophole after council votes down a fix

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he would try again to close a loophole in the county forest law Tuesday, one day after the County Council defeated legislation that would have required a grading permit before cutting a certain amount of trees.

During a media briefing Tuesday morning, Pittman said his administration would work on addressing concerns about the legislation introduced by Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan Rodvien but rejected.

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“I believe it has to come back,” Pittman said. “I know the council wants to close this loophole.”

Introduced by Rodvien, D-Annapolis, Bill 20-21 would have changed county law to require anyone clearing 5,000 square feet or more of trees to have a grading permit. Clearings under that figure can use a standard grading plan, which is more associated with minor commercial and residential work.

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It was prompted by the county’s decision not to fine a development group $73,000 under the county forest law because they hadn’t yet submitted a development application. Instead, they were fined $500 for cutting down 14 large specimen trees. The Pittman administration supported the measure.

It was voted down 4-3 with Councilwoman Allison Pickard, D-Millersville, voting with Republicans against the bill. Pickard said she shared concerns with her colleagues the bill ensnared homeowners and small businesses even after amendments to mitigate that concern.

Republican member Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena; Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold and Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater also voted against the bill. All of them showed interest in the bill if their concerns could be remedied.

The priority forest definition updates the language to protect forests outside of the critical environmental area but still are in “sensitive areas” that include 100-year floodplains, intermittent and perennial streams, and critical habitat areas.

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Rodvien said the bill would protect those forests from larger developers trying to bypass county rules while making sure it doesn’t put a burden on smaller businesses or homeowners.

“It is pretty broad; it leaves a lot of room for someone to make mistakes,” Rodvien said. “But once you get the point of clearing a basketball court worth of trees, that is something you should get a permit for.”

In the tree clearing case that prompted the legislation, developers of land off Bestgate Road in Annapolis had not submitted a development application and were therefore not subject to the $4.50-per-square-foot-of-disturbance fine approved by the council in 2019 as part of a more forceful tree conservation ordinance.

Rodvien represents the area where the violation took place.

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