After weeks of debate and adoption of 14 moderating amendments, significant issues remain unresolved in Anne Arundel County’s draft forest conservation bill. Principal among those is applying the “unnecessary hardship” standard of review to requests to impact most regulated forest stands. That change could restrict development, especially in Anne Arundel’s growth areas.

The bill requires that tree stands which are 35 feet wide and 10,000 square feet or more in size, “shall be left undisturbed unless” the county Planning and Zoning Officer approves a code modification.

Currently, a developer must demonstrate that “reasonable efforts” have been made to protect regulated forest and the development plan cannot be reasonably altered to avoid clearing. If approved as currently written, Council Bill 68-19 would require developers to demonstrate that preserving those forests would generate “unwarranted hardship” before they could receive permission to disturb those areas.

Courts and the Maryland Natural Resources Article have defined “unwarranted hardship as denying reasonable and significant use of the entire parcel. This is a lower or more lenient standard than a constitutional taking of land.

However, this standard is intentionally difficult to achieve and is currently applied to restrict incursions into forested stream buffers, clearing of endangered plant species or removing specially designated champion trees. Its application to more common, upland forest stands will certainly impact development yield inside Anne Arundel’s growth areas. 

The Anne Arundel County Council will hold a second bill hearing on Council Bill 68-19 on Nov. 4.