If you own property along the shores of Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean, you might want to pay attention. Not satisfied with the amount of regulation already in place for development in those areas considered “critical areas”, the General Assembly (with the backing of the O’Malley Administration) is looking to really put the screws to both landowners and local jurisdictions by expanding both the area placed under these restrictions and the power of the state to control how smaller units of government enforce these laws.
First of all, I need to thank “The Waterman” for bringing this item to my attention. HB1253 passed its second reading (as amended) on March 18 so the final vote will likely be cast next week in the House of Delegates. There are three things that strike me as being onerous regarding this bill:
- The bill changes which areas are deemed to count toward the percentage of lot coverage guidelines. Where the standard is now simply impervious surfaces such as the house or building, pavement, sidewalks, and the like, the new standards change the definition to lot coverage, which also includes items like overhanging balconies or decks.
- For subdivisions, the new proposal expands buffer areas threefold, from 100 feet to 300 feet.
- Most troublingly, enforcement of these laws is changed so that each violation is a separate offense and each day the violation exists is also a separate offense. This is so that fines and penalties can be ratcheted up more easily and you know it’s all about money to the state.
One thing I found intriguing (but not surprising) in the bill’s original fiscal note is that about 1/9 or 11% of the state falls under the critical area guidelines as currently written. Of course, within that 11% falls practically all of the state’s most desirable real estate so the impact on people in my profession is most profound. It’s another layer of red tape that we have to deal with in creating good projects for those who wish to develop their land. While some jurisdictions are fairly by-the-book strict, others tend to be a little more reasonable in allowing flexibility with what can be placed, and still others pretty much allow anything. This bill attempts to eliminate local judgment calls, which is unfortunate because a few bad apples spoiled a good thing.
Finally I noticed that this bill, which wasn’t introduced until February 8th, sailed through the process with a reasonably speedy hearing – unlike a certain other bill for which I submitted written testimony. Of course, the O’Malley Administration is foursquare behind this proposal which helps but the reason it wasn’t introduced until later in the process is that the bill reflects a study done by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that wasn’t completed until last month. And whatever the CBF wants, the environmentalists in the General Assembly are sure to try and give it to them.
I’ve said it before – in most places those who favor bigger, more intrusive government sell their programs by telling us, “it’s for the children.” In Maryland, the appeal that can sell almost anything is telling residents “it’s for the Bay.” House Bill 1253 is yet another example and despite my objections I’m betting it’ll be law by midyear.