On October 21st, the Anne Arundel County Council gave preliminary approval to 14 amendments that moderate County Executive Steuart Pittman’s sweeping reimagining of the county forest conservation law.

Weeks of council meetings to analyze the policy implications and determine an appropriate course took place amid a constant flood of email and phone calls generated by non-profit environmental organizations and community groups demanding an end to tree clearing related to land development.

One council member expressed that the public had made it overwhelmingly clear that trees have an emotional value and that they do not want to see them cut down regardless of where or why.

Nonetheless, a strong majority of the council supported changes that restored some balance to the bill in an attempt to allow the growth areas of the county to function as intended.

Key amendments include retaining current forest conservation requirements within, “targeted growth areas” and limiting the increase in forest conservation thresholds from 15 percent to 20 percent for commercial and high density residential sites inside the county’s, “priority funding areas.” The County executive had proposed increasing forest conservation thresholds from 15 percent to as high as 65 percent for larger tracts in high density residential and 60 percent in commercial zoning categories.

Replanting for clearing above the thresholds would increase from 1/4 acre to 1/2 an acre for each acre of forest cleared.

The fee in lieu of planting, proposed at $2.50 per square foot, was amended downward to $1.00.

Modifications (regulatory variances) to clear priority forest will require an administrative finding of unwarranted hardship in order to be approved.

Grandfathering amendments allow development applications filed on or before December 15, 2019 to be governed by the current forest conservation law.

The council will take public testimony and may vote on the amended bill on Nov. 4.