Anne Arundel County Council will hold a public hearing October 7th on a bill that would significantly heighten forest conservation requirements for development and redevelopment.

The bill capitalizes on a lack of understanding about the environmental benefits contemporary development projects generate. It raises fundamental questions about how best to meet transportation, air and water quality goals in a county conservatively forecast to grow 104,000 jobs and 37,000 households by 2045. The county, which is already wrestling with a shortage of buildable land in key commercial zones and lacks affordably priced housing, estimates it has remaining capacity for fewer than 8,000 housing units in its growth area. It has no official estimate of commercial or industrial development capacity.

While forest preservation could contribute to environmental goals, increasing forest preservation inside the county growth area would quickly deplete remaining development acres, push development onto septic systems in rural parts of the county and into adjacent jurisdictions requiring many Marylanders to do longer commutes; a growth pattern that would ultimately generate more pollution than the additional tree preservation could offset.

The proposed changes to the county forest conservation law would limit clearing by revising the definition of priority forest retention area, increase in-lieu fees from $17,000 to $108,000 per acre and expand the area on development sites that would require reforestation. Together, the changes would reduce the buildable area on a typical development parcel by 40-60 percent, making developments smaller and/or less dense, increasing commercial rents and the final prices of homes.

Council Bill 68-19 continues to be a top priority for the NAIOP Legislative Committee.