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Minor subdivisions in Charles County can now include up to seven houses on plats recorded by New Year’s Day, the county commissioners decided last week, an increase of two from the prior limit.

However, in some cases, a currently recorded minor subdivision could end up comprising up to 12 houses if seven new lots are recorded on “residue” land of a parcel already slated for a five-home minor subdivision, County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz told the board.

While the Dec. 28 legislation did not refer to the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, commonly dubbed the “septic bill,” the new rules had to be adopted by the end of the year to comply with the state law, which gave counties until Dec. 31 to expand minor subdivisions in “Tier IV” areas, those destined for the strictest development restrictions in the name of land preservation. Earlier in December, the commissioners discussed expanding the definition in Tier IV areas only, to mitigate the cost of the law to landowners there.

The final legislation will likely affect land only in Tier III, where major subdivisions — those larger than seven houses — can be built on septic systems, and in Tier IV, where major subdivisions are banned, said commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D). It made sense to extend the same consideration to owners of land in both tiers even though Tier III landowners have more development options, she said.

“The whole point of letting you go from five to seven was to give some favor, if you will, not the right word, but relief to Tier IV owners. It’s OK to do it in Tier III as long as you’re going to keep the Tier IV” at a ratio of 20 acres per one house, a septic bill requirement, she said.

The county does not have an estimate of the possible impact of the definition change, in part because Charles County government has not formally submitted its proposed tier map to Maryland agencies for review, Kelly said, so parcels’ tier designations are unknown.

The county missed the Dec. 31 deadline to submit the map, meaning major subdivisions will have to be approved by state agencies until it is done. She said the board would work to submit a map early this year so that few, if any, developments would be affected by the delay.

Concerned about the impact of more rural homes on county infrastructure, Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) opposed the change in definition, which passed 4-1.

The change could strain the “natural resources of the county. That being said, I could be swayed to support this if we were to strengthen and expand the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance countywide to minor subdivisions, to be somewhat in line with what is required for major subdivisions, especially as it relates to roads, schools and stormwater management,” he said.

The board did not adopt his suggestion but did unanimously vote to tell the Charles County Planning Commission to examine the matter and report back within 60 days. Adequate public facilities ordinances require developers to offset the cost of providing government services like public schools or utilities for new homes or other construction. In Charles County, the ordinance does not apply to minor subdivisions.