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Author Topic: Lets "PAVE" The Bay?  (Read 1516 times)
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« on: April 04, 2008, 12:27:24 PM »

Numbers don't add up in Bay foundation report
Special from the Kent County News
April 4, 2008


CHESTERTOWN  Should Kent County's motto be "let's pave the Bay?" A Chesapeake Bay Foundation report seems to point the finger that way.

Few will argue that progress on a healthier Chesapeake Bay has been satisfactory. No watershed state can claim it will meet the EPA's 2010 water-quality deadline, just 18 months away.

It is common wisdom that more needs to be done, and that sprawl causes major problems.

But with Kent County's strict zoning, two riverkeeper organizations and its land preservation priorities, most residents believe Maryland's smallest county takes water quality very seriously and recognizes sprawl is a threat.

The CBF's February report focused on Kent, Anne Arundel, Queen Anne's and Calvert counties, "The Critical Area Act: Intent, Reality, and the Need for Reform," analyzed statistics from 1990-2000 and 2003-2006 to bolster its case that the state's Critical Area has been ravaged by 24 years of poor enforcement, bad planning, and overdevelopment.

 "You're seeing us at our worst.

It seems likely we've made some errors."

Kim Coble, executive director,
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

A Feb. 4 press release quotes Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Kim Coble: "'What we have seen is virtually unchecked development a deck here, a house there, swimming pools and walkways which combined will result in death by a thousand cuts for our rivers, and the Bay,' Koble  said."

It was part of CBF's lobbying effort to pass House Bill 1253, which strengthens the Critical Area Act.

"Naughty List"

When the report arrived here, Planning Director Gail Owings was shocked to see Kent on "the naughty list."

The CBF concluded " it is clear that exceptions to basic Critical Area buffer requirements are easily obtained," and faults planning office staff, the planning commission, and board of appeals members on three counts: routinely approving critical area variances; "disturbingly high" approvals for Critical Area buffer changes; and also, allowing 803 acres of "development" in the Critical Area between 1990 and 2000.

But those conclusions are based on numbers much higher than what is in planning office files.

As of Monday, no one at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation could explain the discrepancies, despite the Kent County News' monthlong effort by phone, fax, ande-mail to contact someone there who wrote the analysis.

John Surrick, of the CBF public relations office, at first said the report was "written by the staff."

A March 25 conference call with Surrick, Project Manager Alan Girard, and Lee Epstein, lands programs director, brought an apology, but shed no light on the figures. (Statistics for the other counties may be correct. Only Kent figures were discussed).

He did the analysis and "it may not have been correct," Epstein said. "We want to make that right, we don't want to stand stupidly behind numbers that are wrong."

Coble said Monday, "I don't have any information on the numbers we are not hiding a thing." She hopes the questions are answered when Epstein and Girard meet Owings in Chestertown on April 7, she said.

Her staff has been slow to respond because of the Maryland legislative session. "You're seeing us at our worst," Coble said, "It seems likely we've made some errors."

In February, Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum compared the report to toilet paper. "His comment was disappointing to us," Coble said, adding he had not contacted her. She had not contacted him, she said.

Coble said the report was issued to influence the debate on the Critical Area reforms in House Bill 1253. She said her organization's House testimony drew conclusions based on the four counties combined, not any one county.

The report added up Critical Area zoning variances and buffer modifications in the four years 2003 to 2006; and impervious surface increase from 1990 to 2000. Variances are not addressed by HB 1253, Coble said, and neither are buffer modifications.

Asked what in the report was addressed by the bill, Coble said, "Actually, nothing."

Shoreline is Special

The Critical Area established by the 1984 law is land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, where special restrictions on development apply. Worcester County's eastern bays got added in 2002.

The Critical Area Commission was set up to oversee Critical Area changes in cities, towns and counties.

The 100 feet closest to the shoreline is called the "buffer," where natural shoreline is to be left undisturbed to filter runoff and provide natural habitat. The CBF calls it "an area of special environmental significance." In the buffer, there is supposed to be no development and no interference with native vegetation.

Is Kent County lax?

Owings said last month that she testified on HB 1253 in Annapolis on March 6 and pointed out the report misrepresented the county's record.

She said 2003-06 includes variances issued after the destructive tropical storm Isabel. To be rebuilt, damaged waterfront buildings required one.

Despite this, the CBF concluded "Landowners easily secure permission to undertake otherwise-prohibited development activity in legally protected zones." They calculated an "approval rate." (It should be noted the report's chart claims 1,367 "total applications." The chart's own numbers add to 1,387).

Easy? Maybe. But not in Kent. Research shows CBF's report doesn't match files at 400 High St. in Chestertown.

Where the county has 37 applications, the CBF says there were 58: 16 in 2003; 12 in 2004; 8 in 2005; and 22 in 2006.

It says 50 of 58 were approved. And that Kent's approval rate ties Calvert's (87 percent) and is scarcely lower than Queen Anne's 90 percent rate.

However, the Kent planning office has 19 approvals (barely five a year), not 50. Nine applications were denied, nine withdrawn, an "approval rate" of 51 percent.

Plus the Critical Area Commission reviewed all 19, Owings said last month, and either "did not comment or did not oppose any of them."

Last month, Environmental Planner Amy Moredock identified seven as grandfathered lots entirely within the Critical Area buffer; six for new septic systems the Health Department mandated. The rest included, for example, a pier extension at Spring Cove Marina.

Owings suggested one source of error is a questionnaire by the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, part of a 2006 report, which the Chesapeake Bay Foundation cited. UM students sent surveys to many agencies, and looked at the CAC's 2005 records for St. Mary's, Queen Anne's and Anne Arundel counties.

Surrick said his group did not use the UM's numerical data. However, CBF's published four-county table exactly matches numbers in "Total Number of Variance Applications" on UM report page 37, covering 2003-2005.

The foundation also says Kent got an astonishing 22 critical area variance requests in 2006 (a year the university report did not cover), up from eight the year before, and more than 2004 and 2005 combined.

Epstein and Girard could not explain their figure.

Planning Commission minutes show eight 2006 Critical Area agenda items. Four were for buffer variances and one, a Tolchester front yard variance, was in the critical area but not the buffer.

Board of Appeals minutes log five buffer variances that came to them. Approved: the marina's pier; a deck; an addition. Denied: a patio. One item was tabled. The Tolchester yard was heard twice and approved the second time, for seven decisions total. No one at the CBF could explain how it got a figure three times higher. None of them could say who visited Chestertown to do research, or when.

Buffer Exceptions

The report also concluded that "buffer modifications" permanently taking pieces from the legally-mapped Critical Area buffer are far too common. Again, the CBF based its conclusion on "approval rate."

Three of three buffer modification requests here were approved in four years, the CBF said, 1.75 acres all told. During the same time, Queen Anne's approved five of five, (4.25 acres), both are 100 percent approval rates.

Anne Arundel approved 75 percent of requests; the nine it granted added to 6.5 acres. A better "approval rate," but more land than Kent and Queen Anne's combined.

Moredock said last week that she could not identify which properties the CBF included. But, she said, following the 2002 countywide rezoning, Kent County used a few acres of growth allocation to take care of very small lots entirely within the buffer. Coupled with the county zoning, these "buffer modified areas," she said, "are more restrictive on development" than state law calls for.

Surrick did not respond to an e-mail requesting specifics for the three cases.

Runaway Pavement?

Finally, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation changed decades. It said "An alarming amount of development, including additions, walkways, patios, and decks, (and) development on so-called grandfathered lots took place in the Critical Area between 1990 and 2000."

A consultant compared satellite images to "evaluate development activity in the Critical Area in these four counties," the report said.

Last week, Eric Almquist of the Baltimore company Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP, explained that government geographical data was used to spot new impervious surface roofs, roads, and pavement within 1,000 feet of the shore in the four counties by comparing 1990 with 2000 imagery. He said the technique is accurate to 0.25 acre and Kent had 321 more acres of impervious surface.

Then Epstein used a "rule of thumb"new impervious surface multiplied by 2.5 equals acreage "developed." He came up with 3,185 acres developed in Anne Arundel County; 1,563 acres in Calvert County; 803 acres in Kent County; and 800 in Queen Anne's County.

He used a multiplier in a 2002 Pew Oceans Commission report written by Dana Beach, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

To gauge the effect of coastal sprawl on water quality, Beach developed a model for a rough estimate of impervious surface based on acres developed. His method is detailed in the Pew report, page 12.

To arrive at "developed acres" in Kent, Queen Anne's, Anne Arundel and Calvert, the CBF ran Beach's calculation backwards. Epstein said this is acceptable practice.

But there is a problem. Beach rewrote that the model assumes four to five dwelling units per acre.

Reached last week by phone, Beach said his model was set up to capture the "typical sprawl development" practiced by large developers, ones with projects like Ryan Homes or Gemcraft in Maryland. Built in, he said, is an allowance for commercial strip development forming part of the sprawl from large new mass-market subdivisions.

He said that his model does not apply where the zoning allows only one house per 20 or 25 acres. Kent County's Critical Area zoning is almost completely one-per-20 or one-per-30 density: "It wouldn't specifically apply to Kent County a 25-acre lot is not in the model."

So it appears that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation vastly overstated "development" in Kent, and possibly in the other three counties.

Coble said Monday the report put her group in "a tough situation. There are plenty of counties that are less thoughtful or responsible than Kent County."

Girard said, "Our credibility is essential. It is not our intent to drag Kent County into the weeds and say they're wrongdoers."

Reader Comments Send your comments!
« Last Edit: April 04, 2008, 12:29:04 PM by genecrabman » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2008, 11:22:34 AM »

That's my faavorite line... We can "pave' the Bay and seal in all the nutrients...!
It is the environamental way to help things...   Huh Roll Eyes laugh laugh laugh laugh


MD / PA Line


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