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County officials are waiting until the end of the state legislative session before making any further decisions about the septic bill, allowing the public 90 days to provide their comments.

The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners and the Calvert County Planning Commission unanimously voted to keep the public record open for 90 days for the proposed county tier maps in an effort to see what may come of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act during the current Maryland legislative session.

Planning Commission Chairman Maurice Lusby said, “Our local legislators have decided to try to pass something up there that would preclude us from having to adopt these tiers. … I don’t think it would be wise for us to act on anything prior to the finality of the session.”

He said that at that point, the planning commission would then send its recommendation to the BOCC.

The planning commission and the BOCC urged residents to speak with state legislators about the septic bill and to share their concerns about it.

“Now is the time to do it,” Planning Commissioner Carolyn McHugh said.

Lusby said that no matter what happens at the state level, “Calvert has taken, as best I can tell and I’ve been following this very closely, has taken the position to be as liberal with what we have had in place as we can be and not wanting to restrain any further what is being asked of us from Annapolis.”

On Tuesday, the BOCC held a work session to discuss the proposed tier maps and, that evening, the BOCC and the planning commission heard public comment on the maps.

The act, which was signed into Maryland law last May, requires local jurisdictions to place all of their land in one of four tiers in order to limit major residential subdivisions with septic systems in the most rural tier. The law, also known as the septic bill or Tier Act, applies only to residential subdivisions, and the tiers establish where those major and minor subdivisions may be located and what type of sewage system can serve them. The law went into effect Oct. 1, 2012.

The drafted tier maps for Calvert are based on the premise that the tiers will be defined by current zoning districts, adopted sewer service areas and parcels of permanently protected land, according to Chuck Johnston, the director of the Calvert County Department of Community Planning and Building.

Tier 1 areas are currently served by sewer and located in town centers or in the Employment Center, Light Industrial, Marine Commercial or Residential zoning districts. Tier 1A consists of land currently served by sewer but used for public or institutional uses, such as schools. All subdivisions must be on public sewerage systems in Tier 1 and Tier 1A. There is a total of 5,317 acres, or 3.8 percent of land, in this tier.

Tier 2 areas are planned for sewer services as shown in the 2011 County Comprehensive Water and Sewerage Plan and located in town centers. Land in this tier must also be in the Employment Center, Light Industrial, Marine Commercial or Residential zoning districts. All major subdivisions, which consists of eight or more lots, in Tier 2 must be on public sewerage systems, and minor subdivisions, seven or fewer lots, may be on either public sewerage systems or septic systems. Tier 2 comprises 3,140 acres, or 2.3 percent of land in the county.

There are 1,758 acres, or 1.2 percent of land in the county, in tiers 1 and 2 in town centers.

Tier 3 would be land that does not and will not have sewer services and is located in Residential, Rural Community and Rural Commercial zoning districts. In this tier, major and minor subdivisions are only allowed on septic systems. Major subdivisions in Tier 3 are subject to nutrient offset standards, such as nitrogen-removing septic tanks, and must be acted upon by the planning commission following a public hearing. The second largest tier in Calvert, Tier 3 consists of 62,747 acres or 45.3 percent of land in the county.

Tier 4, the most rural tier, is land that does not and will not have sewer service and is located in Farm and Forest, Wetlands and other zoning districts that are permanently protected from development. Only minor subdivisions on septic systems are allowed in this tier.

Tier 4 is composed of 47.4 percent of land in Calvert County, or 65,566 acres, making it the largest tier.

There is a potential loss of 740 lots in the Tier 4 area because the county does not qualify for an exemption to have major subdivisions on septic systems in Tier 4 — it requires one lot per 20 acres within the tier and the county only achieves one lot per 10.6 acres in that tier. The number of lots that compose a major or minor subdivision are counted from Oct. 1, 2012, the effective date of the act and the effective date the county adopted in the zoning ordinance.

“The impact is on the larger parcels,” Johnston said about the lots lost.

Stuart Paul, a landowner in Mt. Harmony, said he has about 300 acres in Tier 4 and he is one of the homeowners who is going to lose lots.

“We have no intention whatsoever of doing anything with what we call the Mt. Harmony Farm. We like it the way it is, but we’re starting to feel like chumps, so to speak, because if you don’t develop it now, the state or the government or somebody’s reaching in and devaluing the potential value of that property. I don’t think that’s right,” Paul said.

He said he is “very supportive” of the state taking care of the bay and that responsible development is important, but “I think there’s got to be a little middle ground there.

“It’s interesting where the Tier 4 land is,” Paul said.

Johnston explained that “the lines [between tiers] are not fixed,” meaning land in one of the tiers can be moved into another tier. “It’s a community’s decision.”

Johnston explained that once the county has its tier maps, the Maryland Department of Planning has the opportunity to comment on them.

“You can disregard their comments,” he told the boards, explaining that the law states that it is up to the local jurisdiction whether to take MDP’s comments or not. He said he cannot say if there will be a future consequence, but there is nothing written in the law as of yet.

Although there are no consequences in the law should a jurisdiction not adopt tier maps, the law does state that major subdivisions in Tier 3, which is comprised of rural communities of large residential parcels, may not be approved.

Thomas Briscoe, a county landowner, said, “The new tier system bill would definitely impact the farmers in a negative way, financially into the future.”

He said there isn’t a market for transferable development rights in the county. “Some people have sold just a few TDRs on their property, and they’re stuck. They can’t develop and they can’t sell TDRs for it.”

Briscoe added, “Since the 1980s, since the critical area law passed, it just seems like it’s been beaten on the landowner’s back.” He said he thinks landowners across the state should be compensated “in some way” for “what [lawmakers are] doing to landowners.”

In February, additional text amendments will be considered by the BOCC and the planning commission addressing process changes. In March, the two commissions will begin discussing additional changes for subdivisions of six or seven lots addressing buffer requirements, road standards and Adequate Public Facilities requirements.

aharrison@somdnews.com