In Howard County, for decades, more trees have been cut down than State law allows.
Development waivers, allowing more tree removal than regulations permit, have been granted because county decision makers have been too lenient.
State Forest Conservation law requires a higher standard than just economic need. Yet, for 20 years developers have reasoned that getting one or a few more residential units in a project warranted taking down more mature trees than was legally allowed.
After 20 years of non-compliance with State law, Howard County leads in defoliating our communities!
Hopefully, this outrageous problem was corrected. The Howard County Council recently passed an update of the County’s Forest Conservation law bringing the County into State compliance. Now there is incentive to provide reforestation in the same watershed. Regulations require planting more new trees because mature trees are a greater loss, that is not mitigated by a few new saplings.
Amendments by the Council to the proposals improved the final legislation. For example, grandfathering was removed. Why? A goal of this legislation was to comply with State law so anything else was self-defeating. For so long, variances and regulations have been so lenient that strengthening the requirements couldn’t be delayed.
Another commendable Council decision was removing the Planning Board from any decision-making authority in regulating Forest Conservation.
Planning Board members told the Council that they were frustrated when called on to make technical and legal decisions without expertise or training.
For example, the Planning Board recently approved a development in the Lawyer’s Hill historic district in Elkridge, clear-cutting acres of mature trees.
Hopefully, the requested waivers to remove the enormous protected trees in Lawyers Hill will not be granted before these new regulations take place. It is high time a more appropriately trained body makes these decisions.
Many testified in favor of these changes, including a newly formed group, Smarter Growth Alliance (SGA) of Howard County.
Under Preservation Maryland, several SGA’s have been formed across the state. Preservation MD recently publicized the following, regarding their newest SGA in Howard.
“…proud to have partnered with the Howard County Sierra Club and The People’s Voice, LLC, to create the Smarter Growth Alliance for Howard County, which brings together organizations focused on sustainable development, healthy communities and protection of natural resources for information sharing, strategizing and coordinating advocacy efforts.”
Sixteen county and state organizations, now part of the new Howard SGA, supported the changes made to Forest Conservation this month.
Is it the dawn of a new era? More concern over the loss of forests across the nation in response to flooding, air quality and other environmental issues is being raised.
Anne Arundel County just increased forest protections as well. Both Anne Arundel and Howard tripled the penalties for violations of Forest Conservation requirements.
The new provisions will stop environmental law compliance decisions being made solely on a cost basis.
Recently, developer building fees for schools were greatly increased after many years of advocacy. Now we have increased forest protections.
Dare we hope that Howard County is turning over a new leaf?
Lisa Markovitz is president of the Maryland civic/political group, The People’s Voice.
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This column originally published in the January 2020 issue of The Business Monthly.