ANNAPOLIS – A state proposal to limit development in 90,000 acres of Patuxent River watershed “flies in the face” of smart- growth initiatives and tramples on local zoning rights, critics charged Wednesday.
But supporters of the bill, which would limit development to one home per five acres, said it is needed to protect the two reservoirs that supply much of the drinking water to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“This is our water supply, and we have no control over our water supply,” said Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, who said that almost half of the watershed is in Howard County.
“This is not a zoning bill, this is a water-protection bill,” said Frush.
The bill is aimed at protecting the Triadelphia and T. Howard Duckett reservoirs, which straddle Howard County’s border with Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Besides limiting development to one home per five acres, the bill would require a 300-foot buffer between a septic field and the banks of the reservoirs and 200-foot buffers to streams that feed the reservoirs.
Howard County resident Susan Gray told the House Environmental Matters Committee that the bill is needed to keep new development from polluting the drinking water supply.
“We’re inundating one area of the watershed with septic systems,” she said. “In a lot of those areas you aren’t going to have sewer service for 10 years to 20 years.”
Gray said septic systems are more likely than sewer systems to leak into nearby drinking water.
But Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning, said the effect of septic systems on groundwater is far from certain.
“This is a bill that kind of leaps at a solution when we don’t even know what the problem is,” she said.
Howard County developers complained that the proposal by the state to impose development limits violates the county’s right to make its own zoning decisions.
“We feel this is a local issue,” said J. Steven Wise, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Builders Association, at Wednesday’s hearing.
“There’s state law that explicitly states that land-use provisions shall be made by local governments,” he said.
Wise also said the plan, by requiring more space between dwellings, “flies 100 percent in the face of” Gov. Parris Glendening’s “smart-growth” plan to limit suburban sprawl.
Woodbine farmer Steve Cissell said state-imposed zoning restrictions would hurt farmers by devaluing the land they borrow against.
“I have my business leveraged against my greatest resource, which is the land itself,” he said.
But Del. James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, said the bill would bring Howard County up to the “minimal basic standards” followed by other counties in setting development limits.
“We all own the watershed,” he said. “Zoning has a greater impact on water quality than anything else we do in this state.”