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Planning Director's Blog - August 2015

Last Updated on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:54am | Department of Planning & Land Management

The focus of this month’s blog is on Chapter 7: Sensitive Areas.  The Planning Act of 1992 and subsequent legislation requires each comprehensive plan in Maryland to establish goals and policies related to sensitive environmental areas, specifically addressing steep slopes, streams & wetlands and their buffers, 100-year floodplains, rare, threatened & endangered species, agricultural & forest land and other areas in need of special protection.  The Sensitive Areas chapter within the Comprehensive Plan reviews protections that are currently in place regarding each of these subject areas.  It then discusses what were considered to be issues at the time the last plan was adopted.  Those include the broad and localized impacts of development, the conservation of agricultural and forest resources and the conservation of ridge tops. 
 
The stated goal for sensitive areas in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan is to:
Continue to protect Garrett County’s sensitive environmental resources and natural features.
 
The objectives suggested for achieving this goal included:
  1. Limit development in and near sensitive environmental areas.
  2. Conserve agricultural and forest resource land.
  3. Protect scenic resources.
  4. Support increased use of soil and water conservation practices.
  5. Preserve 20,000 acres of farmland by 2020.
  6. Protect public wellhead resource areas.
 
The Sensitive Areas Ordinance and the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance both contain measures to limit development on steep slopes, near rivers and streams, and near the habitat of rare, threatened or endangered species.  After the adoption of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, the Sensitive Areas Ordinance was amended to include regulations to limit development in and establish buffers around Source Water Protection Areas.  These areas protect an established buffer around a groundwater source of public drinking water.  Also at that time both a Wetlands and a Floodplain section was added to the Sensitive Areas Ordinance.
 
As recommended the County continues to work with various state, other public and private preservation interests to achieve the stated preservation goal of 20,000 acres by 2020.  Currently Garrett County has preserved 14,894 acres of farmland and therefore has seen 74.5% of its goal achieved.
 
The Subdivision Ordinance has been amended to require wetland delineation at both the preliminary and final plat stages for both minor and major subdivisions.  In addition language has been added to encourage and incentivize clustered subdivisions, which would channel development away from sensitive environmental areas and conserve contiguous areas of wetlands, agricultural and forest land.
 
In an effort to preserve ridge tops the County supported legislation that established setback requirements for wind turbines from existing residential structures.  The 2008 Plan also supported setbacks from property lines, but this requirement was not included in the legislation that was passed by the General Assembly.
 
Stormwater Management was a concern in 2008 and continues to be a concern.  Prior to the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, the state realized a need for modifications to the stormwater regulations to include the use of Environmental Site Design (ESD) to the Maximum Extent Practicable (MEP) in order to maintain after development as nearly as possible, the predevelopment runoff characteristics, and reduce stream channel erosion, pollution, siltation, sedimentation, local flooding, and use appropriate structural best management practices (BMPs) only when necessary.  New state laws mandated counties pursuant to the Annotated Code of Maryland, to revise and adopt these new laws that apply to all development occurring within the incorporated and unincorporated areas of Garrett County. The County adopted these changes to the Stormwater Management Ordinance in 2010.  The Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance was revised to include ESD controls by the County in 2013.  The County, as per the recommendations in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, is still considering possibilities for stormwater management retrofits and continues to encourage innovative stormwater management practices.
 
Please forward any thoughts or ideas about the protection of sensitive areas in Garrett County to myself, Deborah Carpenter, Director, Garrett County Planning & Land Management office.  My email is dcarpenter@garrettcounty.org. 
 
Next month’s blog will feature Chapter 8 of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan: Community Facilities.