New county plan for septic growth satisfies state -- Gazette.Net


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The Frederick County Board of Commissioners hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Maryland Department of Planning over regulations to limit the spread of rural septic systems across the state.

But Tuesday night, the board voted to approve a map that cements a compromise with the state on a plan to regulate the construction of septic systems in an effort to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a septic map that will meet the state’s approval, for which the county will receive an exemption from some of the state’s most stringent requirements.

Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) abstained from the vote.

The new map replaces one the commissioners approved in December, which placed large swaths of the county in categories other than where the state believed they belonged. The old map was viewed as a statement in opposition to the legislation that created the septic mapping requirements.

That December vote meant they rejected essentially the same map they approved Tuesday, which had been prepared by county staff.

In a letter to the county regarding the initial map, the state Department of Planning said the county’s map didn’t meet the requirements of the law that established the regulations.

Failure to meet the state’s requirements could have hurt the county in getting agricultural preservation money and other state funds.

After a meeting between commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R), Secretary of Planning Richard Hall and county Community Development Director Eric Soter earlier this month, the county agreed to approve a map that met the state’s specifications.

In return, the state has agreed to grant the county an exemption from the law’s limitations on large subdivisions on agricultural land, with recognition from the state that the county’s zoning procedures already do an effective job of limiting such growth.

Hall, who attended Tuesday’s meeting which drew about 20 people to Winchester Hall in downtown Frederick, said Frederick was one of probably five or six counties in the state that has strong rural zoning requirements already in place.

“There are very few counties in Maryland that are even in the ballpark for these exemptions,” Hall said.

After analysis by the department’s staff, it was determined that the new map meets the state’s requirements, Hall said.

Now the map will go before the state Sustainable Growth Commission for review, although Hall said final approval of the exemption rests with his department.

“If you pass this map, we’re good,” he said, prior to the commissioners vote Tuesday. “We just have to go through our process.”

The law allows for 90 days for the department to make a decision, but Hall said he expects to make a formal decision long before then.

Hall said he’s been informed by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office that the exemption can be revoked if the county waters down its rural zoning policies in the future.

Young said he understands that several of the commissioners don’t agree philosophically with the state’s actions, but he praised Hall for being helpful and cooperative during the process.

Commissioner David Gray (R), the lone dissenting vote against the map approved in December, said he was happy the county and state were able to work out their differences.

Gray said he believes the previous map cast the county in a bad light around the state.

Alison Prost, an attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the organization was happy to see the commissioners had agreed to reconsider their map and was glad to hear that the county will qualify for the exemption.

She said the foundation will continue to review the map, but it supported the county’s request for the exemption.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is involved with a local group in a lawsuit challenging the county’s comprehensive plan.

rmarshall@gazette.net