Tier map issue returns to county council
Scouting the 2A East Region Final
— An old issue concerning the county’s future growth will be amongst the new county council’s first actions as the departing administration clears house of concerns.
County Director of Planning and Zoning Eric Sennstrom gave the county council a “heads up” Tuesday that an amendment to insert the tier map adopted by County Executive Tari Moore in December 2012 as
a “placeholder” will now become the final map inserted into the Cecil County Comprehensive Plan.
“This action is needed to meet a state deadline of Dec. 31, 2016,” Sennstrom explained.
County Manager Jim Massey said the proposed resolution is scheduled to be introduced Dec. 6 as an expedited action on the first agenda of the new county council. As an expedited item, it will require a public hearing and final vote both on Dec. 20, in order to meet the law.
The Cecil County Planning Commission will hear the amendment on Monday, Nov. 21.
Just weeks after she assumed the position of county executive in December 2012, Moore administratively submitted a “tier map,” or a map delineating four tiers for future growth in accordance with the Maryland Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act
of 2012. The intent of that law was to plan where in the state major subdivisions could still be served by septic systems, in order to save on infrastructure costs and reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.
The law quickly proved controversial, especially in rural counties, where residents demanded to retain land use rights. Over the months, each county worked through its issues with the law with the Maryland Department of Planning — except Cecil County. Moore’s admin- istration continues to deal with a backlash of state opposition to the original tier map, which essentially designated little county land for Tier IV, or land permissible for little to no development.
For the last four years, Moore and her staff have met multiple times with three different Maryland Secretaries of Planning, both Democratic and Republican, offering nine different maps as a compromise, but never gaining the state’s acceptance. A 2014 remapping to delineate Tier IV land in a piecemeal fashion was also dismissed by the state.
In the spring of this year, however, the Hogan administration restored the county’s ability to approve all subdivision plats that the O’Malley administration had revoked for major subdivisions in Tiers III and IV. The county originally thought it had until 2020 to incorporate the tier map into the comprehensive plan, but state law says they have to abide by the old six-year review timetable, or by 2016, that was in effect in 2012 when the maps were first adopted.
“We’re facing another deadline,” Sennstrom said. “This amendment will continue to allow subdivisions to be approved and allow citizens to make their own land use decisions.”
“The state has yet to accept the wisdom of our maps and want us to take a different path,” he added.
The old law required each county to review and adopt a new comprehensive plan every six years, but now that law has changed to every 10 years, according to Sennstrom.
“Our main goal has always been to protect personal property rights,” Moore said in a recent interview.
Sennstrom told the county council Tuesday that protection of the exemption of the county’s one home per 20 acres density in Tier IV is important.
“Without this, they’d lose their ability to exercise their property rights,” he said.
The timeline looms without a compromise, prompting the amendment now being offered.
Council President Robert Hodge asked Sennstrom if the absence of priority preservation areas and rural legacy areas being defined would have any impact on future state funding.
“The Hogan administration has not supported withholding funding based on the lack of a map,” Sennstrom said.
In general, the state has said the county’s maps and areas are too piecemeal.
“It’s important to remember the state can’t approve or deny our map,” Sennstrom said, reasserting a contention put forth by his administration in previous years that the state can only comment on a county’s map.
One of the incoming county council’s first issues will be considering a land use planning map that is required to be entered into the county’s comprehensive plan, but has yet to be done due to disagreements at the state level.