Announced via press release:

County Executive Calvin Ball Announces Major Updates To Forest Conservation Act

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced major updates to the Howard County Forest Conservation Act, which had not been updated since the 1990s, to bring it into compliance with state law and strengthen environmental regulation. The Maryland Forest Conservation Act was created to minimize the loss of Maryland’s forest resources during land development by making the identification and protection of forests an integral part of the site planning process. Ball’s updates will ensure County compliance, increase forest retention and replanting, reduce use of fee-in-lieu, and improve safeguards for the environment. In addition, Ball is giving away 2,000 free trees to Howard County residents to promote new planting in the community. Photos from the event can be found here. Video can be found here.

“Our forests are critical to our natural ecosystems, powerful tools in the fight against climate change, and a necessity for human life,” said Ball. “The state of Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act to safeguard our forest resources during land development. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to finally make sure Howard County is not only compliant with this legislation, but that we also go further. We must ensure that the future of development in Howard County is smarter, more transparent, and more environmentally conscious. Today, we take a major step forward to protect our forests and our future.”

The Forest Conservation Act updates include:

  • Full compliance with State law through more than a dozen legislative updates, including required on-site retention for champion and specimen trees.
  • Increased replanting obligations to ensure developers contribute to reforestation efforts across the entire watershed.
  • Improved stewardship of the Green Infrastructure Network (GIN), which maps the most eco­log­i­cally valu­able forests, wet­lands, mead­ows, water­ways, and other nat­ural areas as well as the lands that con­nect them together. The updated will add GIN to retention and reforestation priorities, as well as requiring its inclusion on development plans.
  • Added new site design requirements so residential developments must meet 75% of their forest conservation obligations on-site before off­-site compliance can be considered. Also, nonresidential developments must protect all sensitive areas with Forest Conservation Easements.
  • Strengthened fee-in-lieu regulation so a maximum of 1 acre forest obligation can be met through fee-in-lieu in a residential development. Inside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.75 to $1.25 per square foot. Outside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.95 to $1.50 per square foot.
  • Tightened variance regulation to limit exceptions. Now, variances will only be granted to applicants meeting the unwarranted hardship standard. Increased costs and inconvenience, including loss of lots, will no longer constitute unwarranted hardship.

Ball’s forest conservation enhancements will connect to his broader vision to lead by example on climate action and safeguard the environment for future generations. Today’s announcement came after Ball:

  • Signed Howard County to the “We Are Still In” declaration, as a promise to world leaders that the County will not retreat from the global pact to reduce emissions and stem the causes of climate change
  • Made Howard County the first county in the nation to formally accept the U.S. Climate Alliance’s Natural and Working Lands Challenge, which calls on jurisdictions to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration
  • Signed an Executive Order to follow through on our energy goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of County government operations to zero by the year 2050
  • Strengthened pesticide policy and joined the coalition known as “Bee City USA” to save threatened pollinators and protect the health of every living thing in Howard County

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A lot of this sounds great..and Howard County SHOULD be in compliance when it comes to the Forest Conservation Act in Maryland. I am happy to see our CE move in that direction.

Now…I have some concerns…especially when it comes to the fee-in-lieu regulation. Good to see that they are going to generate additional revenue on that item…and I am far from an expert on it…and have reached out and asked for more info…but it should concern us that “those that can” can pay to get out of following the regulation by paying a fee. I just need to know more about when you can pay to ignore the regulation and when you can not…I am just not an expert in this field…but my own personal opinion “right now”…not a fan of paying to ignore regulations…on this or on the affordable housing regulation…but again…I need more details and more information.

Also…how did the person that put this public release together mention items related to a “broader vision to lead by example on climate action and safeguard the environment for future generations” while not mentioning the following:

Those are just a couple of additional items I thought worth mentioning in this discussion. I like what our CE is doing in regards to the environment here in Howard County. I think he is trying to move the county in the right direction…but of course it would not be my blog if I did not bring it back around to this…what will our CE do or support when it comes to plastic bags? Will he jump on the side on money (a bag fee / tax) or will he take the BOLD step of supporting a plastic bag ban? You all know where I stand on the issue by now (ban the bag…do not tax the bag)…our CE appears he wants Howard County to be a leader on the environment…I am just hoping he is that way when the plastic bag issue shows up…and does not support chasing the money option on that issue but make a significant change locally for the local environment. I PROMISE I will be watching that as close as I have watched anything on this blog.

Can not wait to see what a certain industry says about this announcement. If they come out hard against it and puts out public statements…and I see them…I will be sure to provide updates here on the blog. On the other hand…if they are supportive…I will publish that as well.

Scott E

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