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Commissioners share mapping woes with MDP secretary

By AMANDA HARRISON

Staff writer

The county adopted new definitions for major and minor subdivisions in the county’s zoning ordinance Tuesday night after one person spoke in support of the change during a public hearing.

On Tuesday night, the Calvert County Planning Commission unanimously voted — after an under-attended public hearing — to send the staff recommended definitions to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, who then unanimously approved the new definitions, which will take effect Dec. 14.

The adopted option changes the parcel of record date to Oct. 1, 2012, in both definitions to coincide with the grandfathering clause in the act, and changes the definition of minor subdivision from up to five lots to up to seven lots, and major subdivisions to eight or more lots instead of six or more lots.

The change is part of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 that was signed into state law in May as a means to limit residential subdivisions to specific areas and on what type of sewerage they can be served. The bill, also known as either the septic bill or growth tier act, allows jurisdictions to change their definitions of major and minor subdivisions before Dec. 31 to allow greater development potential without increasing density.

The sole public testimony for the evening came from Paula Martino, the government affairs director for the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors. She said, “The realtors are very concerned about how this will impact on property rights and we’re grateful that the recommendation here this evening is the one that we believe is the most fair and equitable to those landowners that are going to find themselves in Tier IV lands, and based on your staff’s presentation, that is almost half the county.”

Tier IV areas are planned for preservation and conservation and are not planned for public sewerage. According to the staff’s presentation, about 47 percent of the county is in Tier IV.

In the county’s ordinance, both major and minor subdivisions are held to the same approval standards, but each go through a different administrative process of being approved; the new definitions do not change the process. A minor subdivision review is still delegated to the planning commission secretary, while major subdivision review must go before the planning commission. The only thing that has changed is the number that defines a major and a minor subdivision.

“This does not affect density. That’s very important to keep in mind,” said Yolanda Hipski, the planning commission administrator. She explained that the density must be available for development.

BOCC concerned about tier mapping

During a work session Tuesday afternoon with Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard Hall, the BOCC expressed its concerns on the effects the tier mapping will have on the county.

“It feels to us like, frankly, Secretary Hall ... that this law was set up without recognizing all the work that we’ve done in Calvert County to keep the dominance of forest and agriculture, and that our landowners are actually being penalized for all the work we’ve done,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said.

Hall, though, stood by the law, stating, “By design, the bill is set up to link into what local governments already have planned and zoned for what areas that have sewer or planned for sewer — those are Tiers I and II, or areas that are planned for large lot residential, which is Tier III, and for areas that are planned and zoned for rural protection, agricultural protection.”

The law, which does not require local jurisdictions to adopt tier mapping, does state, however, that if tier maps are not adopted, major subdivisions would not be permitted in Tier IV, whether they are planned for private sewerage systems or not.

Hall did reiterate that doing the tier mapping is optional, citing other counties that are “going into the new year without a map, and some, a good number of them, have indefinite time frames on when or if they’ll do a tier map.”

Shaw explained that one of her frustrations with the mapping is that many areas of the county appear to be dominated by forest or agriculture, which would be land mapped for Tier IV, but in reality, there are homes or other uses on the land.

“The frustration for me with this law has been that, clearly, that kind of landscape was not envisioned by this law,” Shaw said of such land, like the Chesapeake Ranch Estates. “So really, I wish there were some kind of waiver process or something where if you achieve the same goal in a different way, that was permissible.”

She also questioned Hall, “If sewer does get run to farms and forest, so that you can have increased density, do you think there’d be less pollution? I mean, that premise is absurd. Pollution doesn’t just come from septic systems. It comes from cars. It comes from roads and asphalt. It comes from trash, and you know, everything.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) read a statement opposing the state’s “intrusive” law.

“Mr. Secretary, the tier map requirements from the recently passed septic law, the planned Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (Cap and Trade), and The Watershed Implementation Plan’s prominent use of best available technology for septic tanks, meaning nitrogen removing septic systems, causes much heartburn — even Prilosec does not help.

“... This state imposed philosophy diminishes property rights of our citizens. I reject this intrusive concept of state-dictated land use and related behavior modifications.”

Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) told the secretary, “Obviously, I mean this is an issue that has dominated the landscape and the political world for at least the last 18 months or two years. It’s an issue that has been debated in many different directions and many different things, and for me to sit here and tell you that I am absolutely tickled to death by this legislation and what passed and what we have to deal with would be me not being honest with you. I’m not.”

Hall tried to reassure the commissioners that MDP is there to help and wants to “make this as painless as possible” for local jurisdictions.

“We don’t go into this lightly. ... We have been appreciative of what the county has done for a long time. ... I think the legislation and the law is set up to do its best to work within the systems that you all have and, certainly, we have a couple things to work out.”

aharrison@somdnews.com