Testimony supporting HB106

I submitted the following for consideration before the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Testimony in favor of HB106:
Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 – Repeal

Ladies and Gentlemen of the House:

In the interest of restoring the primacy of local government, I stand as a common citizen in supporting this bill.

There is little doubt that Chesapeake Bay defines Maryland as a state, and, while there are differences in opinion as to the best course to take in preserving the quality of the estuary for future generations, the goal for all is a cleaner Bay. These concerns have already been addressed on many fronts, with assistance from both the state and federal governments.

That assistance is not at question here, because the law which this bill aims to repeal is not a bill to directly clean up Chesapeake Bay. Rather, HB106 corrects an ill-considered measure which, if not changed, will permanently and adversely affect the farmers who create much of the wealth in rural areas of the state like the local government as elected by the people of Wicomico County.

When the county places land in a tier where development is permanently limited by the newly-created law, I believe the landowner is harmed as the potential value of his property is decreased via the lack of development options. Though some landowners have already given up development rights, which was their decision, I do not believe this can be a one-size-fits-all approach as the state is dictating. Instead, I believe that farmers are the best stewards of their land and many have already taken common-sense measures to protect both their investment and the health of the Bay, with planting cover crops being one prime example.

Because they realized our job is to allow farmers and the agricultural industry to engage in the practices they find best, at the end of last year our County Council considered a provision which would allow an agricultural landowner to voluntarily opt into a Tier IV designation. But Maryland Department of Planning and Zoning Secretary Richard Hall made it plain that, “The law pretty much makes clear that agricultural zones are to be in Tier IV, and so to opt in or opt out is not what’s in the legislation.”

This attitude exhibited by Secretary Hall brings us to the second part of my objection, the idea of local control.

As I stated above, all of us agree Chesapeake Bay is worth preserving. Local governments are just as steadfast toward that goal as those who would dictate to us in Annapolis, and what the Wicomico County Council was proposing was simply another form of public input. It seems to me that’s the goal of good government, but this law as interpreted by Secretary Hall seems to reveal the true intentions of the state as sole arbiter of all issues regardless of the local situation.

As county residents we trust our local Planning and Zoning Department would come up with a sound comprehensive plan which addresses Wicomico County’s current and future needs. All the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 has accomplished is to place another state mandate on what should properly be a local issue. Certainly we know what works in Wicomico County may not necessarily be the best approach for Montgomery County, and vice versa.

To that end, I ask that HB106 be adopted and local counties be allowed to resume the procedures they have found to work best for their local needs.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael Swartz


Later this evening I’ll publish the testimony I wrote on SB281. It’s more biting than this one.