Developers attempt to sabotage passage of City’s first forest conservation law

After many decades of the City not having a local Forest Conservation Act (FCA) law, they finally stand close to passing one (at the Monday, September 26th meeting). If, that is, developers and their allies weren’t trying to sabotage it at the 11th hour.

The newly proposed ordinance, O-22-16, is a good piece of legislation. If approved with the proposed amendments, it would likely be one of the strongest FCA ordinances in the State. This ordinance deserves support because:

  • It would protect more forest and trees than previously required,
  • Increases the protection of sensitive areas,
  • Improves public transparency so the public can’t be shut out of the process,
  • Strengthens the priority forest retention provisions,
  • Makes the fee-in-lieu one of if not the strongest in the state,
  • Clarifies the appeals process and temporarily prevents forest clearing while appeals are pending.

You can view a full summary by reading  Alderman Littman’s summary memorandum.

Many months ago, when this was first introduced, I opposed the legislation. But after testifying before the Planning Commission, the City Council, and the City Council Committees, I’ve changed my mind. These bodies listened to all of us testifying, and considered all of our views, including those of the developers. They have proposed a number of amendments that make this ordinance even stronger. This legislative process worked precisely how it should – they heard the public and seriously considered our views in their amendments. That’s why a number of groups joined me and are now supporting this legislation (with amendments), including the South River Federation, members of the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, and members of the Annapolis Environmental Commission.

The legislative process worked as it should. It reached out to all affected, including environmentalists and developers. It included dozens of hours of effort spent by Alderman Littman, Finlayson, Arnett, and Budge. Yet now the developer wants to throw all of that away and are pushing for a delay (here is their letter to the Council). Is that fair to the public? We have been waiting on this ordinance for over 5 years now! We don’t need another delay! We don’t need our hard work during the legislative process thrown away! We don’t want the hard work of our Council members to be thrown away!

Please consider writing the Mayor and Council. Tell them 1. No delay and 2. vote yes on passage. And please consider testifying at the Council meeting if able. The only time to testify on this will be during the general comments section at the beginning of the meeting, which means you won’t have to stay too long at the meeting (starts at 7pm).

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Public hearing on new Annapolis forest law

There will be a public hearing on the City Council’s proposed Forest Conservation ordinance (and a number of other important ordinances & resolutions – read on for those) tomorrow night at 7pm. I have details and recommended testimony on the Forest Conservation ordinance below. Continue reading Public hearing on new Annapolis forest law

Land/forest preservation and the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup efforts

Here’s a great article from the Bay Journal, which has important information for all of our efforts to clean up our waterways and protect our forests. Studies have shown that it is less costly both economically and environmentally to protect and preserve undeveloped land and forest, as opposed to trying to offset and prevent the pollution after land is already cleared and developed. A key reason is because  impacts from developed land cannot be completely mitigated compared to pre-development conditions. Furthermore, they make the brilliant point that the Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction efforts need to give more weight to land preservation. Here are some excerpts:

Continue reading Land/forest preservation and the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup efforts

Crystal Spring update – July 15th meeting

** This is a repost from someone else’s email**

During a June 25th public meeting with Aldermen Jared Littmann and Ross Arnett, Mr. Littmann indicated that there has been “no groundswell of support for a moratorium” on development until the city finishes revising its process for complying with the Forest Conservation Act.

There are many project in the pipeline for Forest Drive area and Eastport.  Crystal Spring is just the largest.  Traffic,  removal of forests and trees, the strain on city services involving our safety (police/fire/water/sewer) and the strain on schools are of great concern.  It would make sense to put a hold on developments until a plan was worked out for roads and city/county services that could support the proposed developments and the process to comply with the Forest Conservation Act was completed.  (The city is in the process of revising its process for complying with the Forest Conservation Act.)

Please write or fax any or all of the following:

Continue reading Crystal Spring update – July 15th meeting

Clarification

For the sake of setting the record straight, and focusing on the substantive issues, I need to issue a clarification and apology. My source, who is close to the administration, had told me that Alan Hyatt advised the law office and Finlayson on O-27-15.  However, I have  no hard evidence, and Mr. Hyatt has subsequently given me his word that neither he nor anyone from his firm have provided guidance on Finlayson’s ordinance O-27-15. I will take Mr. Hyatt at his word, and apologize for stating that he assisted Finlayson in drafting O-27-15. I regret the error, and do not want it to be a distraction to my main points: the City’s broken system, the negative aspects of Finlayson’s O-27-15 (including how it is more friendly to developers) , and the desire to have a system that doesn’t cater to developer interests.

Comparison of the newly proposed forest laws

As you may have noticed in The Capital, the Annapolis City Council is currently considering a few different ordinances that would be the City’s first, complete Forest Conservation law. Some of the ordinances proposed would fix many of the issues I’ve tried to give voice to over these past few months. Others would weaken our environmental laws and standards. This would be the single most important piece of environmental legislation that the City has passed in decades, which means it is important to get it right.

Bottom line:

  • Support Alderman Littman’s ordinance (O-32-14), as amended by the Planning Commission.  Littman’s ordinance is the product of over a year’s worth of effort in speaking to multiple stakeholders in the community (including City staff, environmental groups, City commissions, and local developers). His ordinance would improve transparency, strengthen our environmental protection, and clarify the hearings and appeals process (though it still needs to clarify where appeals go and if they come with a stay on proceedings).
  • Help stop Alderwoman Finlayson’s competing ordinance (O-27-15). The Finlayson ordinance would reduce transparency, make the appeals process more burdensome for the public, make compliance with key provisions voluntary, and would set our environmental laws back to 1992 standards.

If you would like more details on Littman’s O-32-14 (as ammended by the Planning Commission), you can download this 1-page summary: ShortSummaryofO-32-14

Reasons to oppose the Finlayson ordinance:

    • Unfriendly to public – appeals go to circuit court bypass appeals board
    • Makes compliance of key provisions voluntary – gives the Department of Neighborhood & Environmental programs director discretion when enforcing FCA manual. (yes, the very Director who has made all the mistakes I’ve been documenting)
    • Sets us below County standards – stream buffers would only be 50′ as opposed to 100′
    • Less protection for wetlands – excludes wetland buffers from being protected.
    • Reduces transparency of the environmental review process – limits transparency by only requiring director comments be posted online (different than current practice where all staff comments online)
    • Trees can be cleared while an appeal is pending – no stay on process
    • We would be stuck with bad developer consultants (environmental): under Littman’s ordinance if a developer consultant keeps making mistakes, the City can hire a new one at the developer’s expense. Keep in mind this would be relevant considering the Crystal Spring consultant took seven attempts to get approved forest stand delineation.
    • It would completely undue the lengthy, collaborative efforts of Alderman Littman, in favor of an ordinance friendly toward developers.

What can you do?

Contact your alderman! Finlayson has slowly been eroding away support behind Littman’s ordinance, and reports have it that the Mayor is even considering withdrawing support.

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Speaking for the trees, good governance, and the public in Annapolis