Frederick County seeks to free schools from tree-planting law -- Gazette.Net


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Plans for a new North Frederick Elementary School building originally required Frederick County Public Schools to plant 209, 2-inch tall caliper trees on the school’s campus.

The trees, required under a state ordinance, would have taken up more than 2 acres on the 13-acre campus.

The requirement led School Security Coordinator Clifton Cornwell III to recommend that trees not be planted on the site.

“We want to be able to see who’s near our buildings,” he said. “I’m very concerned when you start giving a hiding place on school grounds.”

The trees could hide both students and intruders, jeopardizing safety, he said.

“The security people like a clear line of sight on a school property,” said Ray Barnes, executive director of facilities services. “They like to be able to see 360 degrees around the building.”

Planting trees, particularly on smaller urban campuses, also limits available space for parking, stormwater management and play areas, Barnes said.

In response, the school system requested that it be allowed to pay a fee in lieu of planting the trees — a common practice in Frederick County and elsewhere.

The city of Frederick accepted that request, and the school system will pay the city $26,528 so that trees can be planted on a different site.

This scenario is both costly and avoidable, according to Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve (R).

In the past five years, the school system has spent $150,000 — or $30,000 a year — either planting the required trees or paying fees to the city or county depending on the location of the construction project.

“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of teachers’ salaries,” Shreve said. “I don’t have anything against trees. I’m just opposed to wasteful spending.”

Under proposed state legislation, introduced on Feb. 1 by Frederick County’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, county schools would be exempt from the planting requirement, known as the State Forest Resource Ordinance.

All Maryland counties with less than 200,000 acres of forest are subject to the ordinance, which includes all 23 counties except Garrett and Allegany.

Marian Honeczy, supervisor or Urban and Community Forestry for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said no other school systems, municipalities or counties, where the ordinance would be applicable, have been exempt from its requirements.

The statute was adopted in 1991 to preserve the forested areas in the state and decrease the amount of forest loss due to development and other changes in land use.

Honeczy said the DNR had not yet taken a position on the legislation, which is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 19.

Development projects that are at least 40,000 square feet — or just under 1 acre — are subject to the ordinance. The number of trees, or forested area, required for a development project is determined by a variety of factors, included in a formula.

The school system, the government and private firms, which are also subject to the state requirement, may either plant the trees on the site, pay a fee or plant the trees at an alternate approved site.

Del. Galen Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick said he believes this is the first time the county has requested that the school system be exempt from the forestation requirement since it was adopted in 1992.

At a delegation meeting Jan. 18, state Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick was the only one among the eight-member delegation not to support the proposal.

“I do not support government doing environmental bills and then exempting themselves from it,” Young said. “The purpose of the bill is to spread the tree cover throughout the state for a whole lot of reasons. I think that all local governments should be involved in that too.”

ecunningham@gazette.net