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Board Conducts Work Session on Septic Bill
Prince Frederick, MD - 7/13/2012
By Marty Madden
A piece of approved legislation that has raised the hackles of Maryland’s rural county leaders was the subject of a work session at the Calvert County Commissioners’ Tuesday, July 10 meeting. The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 is better known as the “Septic Bill.” The stated goal of the measure, which was proposed by Governor Martin O’Malley [D], is to “limit disproportionate impacts of large subdivisions on septic systems on farm and forestland, streams, rivers, and Chesapeake and coastal bays.”
The work session was conducted by Department of Community Planning and Building Director Charles Johnston, who explained the law provides for jurisdictions to place of its land in one of four areas known as tiers. The primary goal of the tier system is limiting major residential subdivisions with septic in the most rural tier.
Johnston pointed out that while the identification and mapping of tiers is voluntary, jurisdictions that don’t map tiers will not be able to approve major subdivisions outside of the areas served by public sewer systems.
The top tier for residential development would be areas served by public sewerage systems. Only a small percentage of land—the Prince Frederick, Solomons and Lusby town centers and the municipalities of North Beach and Chesapeake Beach—would comprise Tier I in Calvert.
The third tier would include areas planned for future growth on septic systems. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) must propose nutrient offset requirement regulations for new major residential subdivisions in a jurisdiction’s third tier. Johnston told the commissioners he and his staff have yet to see those regulations.
The onerous oversight on the third tier had some of the commissioners concerned about residential development in areas such as Dunkirk, a minor town center where there is no public sewerage system nor is there a plan for such a service in the future.
“I’m convinced the Dunkirk anti-bodies will come out,” said Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R], a past president of the Dunkirk Area Concerned Citizens Association. Slaughenhoupt the bill could have adverse impact in other communities. “Clearly the law is flawed,” he said. “It needs fixing.”
“This is going to shut down building in the minor town centers,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw [R], who added the county’s decisions on which planned development areas should be grandfathered from the new regulations will be crucial. “It’s just unrealistic. It’s taking away people’s property values.”
Department of Community Planning and Building Principal Planner Carolyn Sunderland told the commissioners that notice of the grandfathering issue has been sent to all subdivision applicants.
“We’re trying to be as lenient as possible,” said Sunderland.
Shaw said the rest of the public needed to make aware of the potential impacts the new law could have on undeveloped properties.
Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R] lamented the state mandating changes that would undermine the county’s strategy for managing residential development. He asked Johnston to arrange a work session with the Maryland Department of Planning so that the commissioners could better understand the ramifications of the Septic Bill.Clark suggested that Department of Planning Secretary Richard Hall be invited to attend the session.
“He should be able to answer questions and clarify some issues for us,” said Clark.
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org
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