Frederick County’s septic map fails to meet state expectations -- Gazette.Net


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The Maryland Department of Planning has taken a dim view of Frederick County’s proposed map laying out future growth of septic systems, but some local lawmakers are equally skeptical of the state’s suggested solution.

Planning Secretary Richard Hall told the county delegation to the General Assembly on Friday in Annapolis that a map submitted to the state by the Frederick County Board of Commissioners in December doesn’t meet the standards set by a law passed in 2012.

Although just 12 of the 24 jurisdictions in the state have approved their maps, only Frederick and Cecil counties in that group were “outliers” because their maps fell drastically short of the state’s expectations, Hall told the seven delegation members who attended the meeting.

Jurisdictions that don’t submit maps face the possibility that the state will refuse to allow residential development of more than five lots.

Several legislators said Friday that the law — part of an effort to limit the spread of septic systems in large developments to control the amount of harmful nitrogen emptying into the Chesapeake Bay — gives the state too much power over local land-use authority.

Frederick is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state and has developed a plan for how it wants to grow, said Del. Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A) of New Market.

“Now we gave you our plan, and you’re saying ‘No, no, no, because the state wants you to do it this way,’” Schulz said.

Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist 4) of New Market accused the state of acting like a “schoolyard bully” in making decisions that belong in the hands of local leaders.

“You want to make it one size fits all, which isn’t going to happen,” Brinkley said.

Del. Michael Hough (R-Dist. 3B) of Brunswick questioned why the state’s suggested map doesn’t have areas such as Brunswick and Urbana in growth districts.

If the state won’t let the county grow near Urbana and Interstate 270, it should allow growth near Brunswick, where people can access MARC trains for mass transit, Hough said.

Del. Patrick Hogan (R-Dist. 3A) of Frederick said while he doesn’t agree with every decision the commissioners have made on growth, he believes those decisions need to be made locally.

Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick, who supported the bill when it passed in 2012, said if legislators don’t want to pay to clean up the bay, the best way to do that would be prevent pollution from getting there in the first place.

The law, known as Senate Bill 236, set up four levels, or “tiers,” to define how septic systems can be built in certain areas. Counties were told to place their land into the various tiers.

The first tier is for areas that currently have sewer service, with the second reserved for future growth planned for sewers.

The third tier is for large lot developments and “rural villages” on septic systems, while the fourth is designated for preservation and conservation areas that would not permit any major subdivisions on septic systems.

A major subdivision is defined as developments with six or more lots, while minor subdivisions have fewer.

The commissioners’ map put much of the county — except for government-owned property and land that can’t be developed — into Tier 3, leaving it open to possible development.

The five-member board passed the map expecting to draw a negative response from the state.

On Tuesday, the county received a letter from the planning department stating the county’s map doesn’t meet the statutory requirements set up in the law.

Commissioners President Blaine R. Young (R) responded with a letter Thursday, stating the county would schedule a public hearing to address the agency’s concerns and give residents a chance to comment on the issue.

Commissioners’ Vice President C. Paul Smith (R), who has played a leading role in the county’s response to the legislation, attacked the planning department’s letter at a commissioners’ meeting on Thursday.

For more than a year, the state has insisted it has no interest in trying to usurp local land-use authority, then sent the letter saying the county’s proposal is insufficient, he said.

“The hypocrisy of that is just palpable,” he said.

Four of the commissioners have expressed concerns the law gives the state too much power for land use.

At the delegation meeting, Hall said the county’s map doesn’t put areas such as priority preservation areas, rural legacy areas, agriculturally-zoned land and other appropriate territory into Tier 4, where the state believes they belong.

“The county knew very well what our expectation was” for what the map should be under the law, Hall said.

But Hall told the lawmakers Friday he hoped no one left the meeting with the impression the department doesn’t consult with counties and municipalities when such plans are being developed.

He said he’s met with more than 100 local governments, and the department has a productive relationship with many of the 12 counties that have approved maps.

Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Dist. 4A), of Middletown, told Hall she hopes his department will be willing to work more collaboratively with Frederick County in the future.

“The local voices have not been listened to,” she said.

rmarshall@gazette.net