Some of the county’s planning maps will take on a pumpkin-like orange hue after the Frederick County Board of Commissioners approved a letter-of-the-law plan requested by the state to map future growth of septic systems.
In doing so, they set up a likely showdown and possible legal fight with the state departments of Planning and the Environment if officials in those agencies balk at the county’s efforts.
The plan — part of an attempt by the state to limit the spread of septic systems in large developments to control the amount of nitrogen emptying into the Chesapeake Bay — was requested by the state by Dec. 31.
Jurisdictions that don’t submit maps face the prospect of the state refusing to approve permits to allow residential development of more than five lots.
The plan provided for levels, or “tiers,” defining how many septic systems can be built in a specified area, and asked counties to parcel out their land into respective tiers.
The first tier would be for areas that currently have sewer service, with the second reserved for future growth planned for sewers, according to a state website about the plan.
The third tier would be for large lot developments and “rural villages” on septic systems, while the fourth is designated for preservation and conservation areas that would not permit any major subdivisions on septic systems.
A major subdivision is defined as developments with six or more lots, while minor subdivisions have fewer.
All five of the commissioners, except for David Gray (R), have voiced strong reservations about the state limiting what property owners will be able to do with their land if they find themselves placed in tier four, which would take away the right of land owners who want to sell their land to developers.
“This is a substantial decision being made about people and their property,” Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young said Thursday.
Rather than approve a map drawn up by the Frederick County Community Development Division that would have put large swaths of the county into tier four, the board adopted a proposal by Young to designated that tier only for government-owned property and land that is unable to be developed.
Since the county would be sending a map, it technically satisfied the state’s request for jurisdictions to submit them, Young said.
The proposal passed 4-1, with Gray opposing it.
Most of the county’s land will now fall into tier three, designated by a dull orange on the proposed map.
Young said he had a problem with putting anyone in tier four unless every property owner in that area had been properly notified, which he believed was not the case.
Commissioner Kirby Delauter (R) said he had a problem sending any map to the state because it meant the board is implicitly condoning the state’s approach.
He questioned how bureaucrats in Annapolis can look at a map and know what’s best for the residents of Frederick County.
“They need to stay the hell out of our business, that’s what they need to do,” Delauter said.
Gray scoffed at the notion that the plan would ultimately meet with the state’s approval.
“I can’t imagine it being taken as a serious attempt to plan,” he said.
“I’m not looking to be taken seriously. I’m looking to be in compliance with SB 236 [the state Senate bill establishing the program],” Young replied.
“It’s certainly in your face, that’s for sure,” Gray said.
The state is obligated to report back to the General Assembly by Feb. 1 on implementation efforts by various counties and whether they’ve tried to comply, Charles Boyd, deputy director of planning services for the Maryland Department of Planning, told the commissioners.
The county could submit its map as proposed and continue with major subdivisions after Jan. 1, but state officials would respond to the county with comments about its map, he said.
On Thursday night after the morning board meeting, Young told a group called Frederick Campaign for Liberty, which opposes the bill, that by approving a map they know will generate resistance, the commissioners ensure the state will comment on it.
Those comments will require a public hearing, which would force state officials to come before Frederick County residents and give them a chance to respond to the plan, Young said.
Because the county complied with the state’s request and provided a map, if Maryland then denies anyone a permit, that person and perhaps the county would have the right to sue the state, according to Young.
After the commissioners’ meeting Thursday morning, Young portrayed the commissioners’ vote as an end-run around efforts by Gov. Martin O’Malley and other Democrats in the state to improperly interfere with the rights of property owners.
“There’s always more ways than one to skin a governor,” Young said.