Frederick Co. officials bristle at growth plan

FREDERICK — Perceived state interference in local growth issues drew fiery language from Frederick County commissioners, with one saying leaders in Annapolis should “stay the hell out of our business.”

The flare-up came as commissioners discussed carving the county into growth regions that would limit construction of large residential developments that rely on septic systems. Legislation passed earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly directed counties to develop the four growth tiers by Dec. 31 or face a freeze on construction of major subdivisions that use septic systems.

“They need to stay the hell out of our business, that’s what they need to do,” Commissioner Kirby Delauter said Thursday of state officials. “This is a local issue.”

Commissioners weighed the idea of declining to set up a growth map, but Commissioners President Blaine Young recommended against the approach because he said it would curtail development. Young said he favored a map that would follow the letter, if not the spirit, of the state legislation. Four of the commissioners voted to place only governmental and nonresidential land into the fourth tier, the area with the tightest development restrictions.

This plan, opposed by Commissioner David Gray, would put no new limits on residential development in the county, according to Young. By contrast, the map drawn by county planning staff placed most of the county’s land into the most growth-restricted category, regions blocked out in white on the map.

Other tiers, where there would be more freedom for development, were shaded in orange, yellow and red.

Young’s proposal would drastically change the drawing’s color balance.

“So this map would turn all pumpkin-orange by that proposal?” Gray asked of Young’s idea. “I can’t imagine it being taken as a serious attempt to plan.”

“I’m not looking to be taken serious. I’m looking to be in compliance with SB 236,” Young replied.

Richard Hall, Maryland secretary of planning, said he doesn’t want to minimize local officials’ concerns, but he stressed that the state is trying to tackle the challenges of pollution and sprawl. For the most part, state and county leaders are able to work cooperatively on planning issues, Hall said by phone Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not from Mars. I don’t pretend to know the county better than they do, but we’re engaged in what’s going on around the state,” he said.

In part because he wasn’t present at Thursday’s meeting, Hall said he did not want to respond to the commissioners’ statements, but he thinks in some cases the discussion about the maps has gotten “a little overly heated.”

The state left it to the counties to design the maps for septic-reliant housing development, but provided general guidelines for crafting growth tiers. Areas now connected to public sewer systems should fall into the first tier, state officials instructed. Regions that are planned for public sewer hookups were supposed to go in the second tier, while the third level should include areas not planned for public sewer service. The fourth and final tier was for agricultural areas or land slated for resource protection, preservation or conservation.

Building major subdivisions on septic systems would generally be prohibited in land inside the fourth tier. In Frederick County, a major subdivision is defined as a development with more than five lots.

County planning staff will redesign the map according to the changes made Thursday by commissioners. Eric Soter, the county’s director of community development, said he plans to forward the drawings to the state next week.

Maryland officials will review the map, and their comments would trigger a local public hearing, but the final authority over the tier structure rests with the county, Hall said. The state’s planning department will present a report on the septic mapping effort to the Maryland General Assembly early in the 2013 session, he said.

With Frederick County, 13 counties will have turned in their septic tier designs to the state, a department of planning spokesman said.

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