Next six months seen as vital for septics law
By MICHEL ELBEN
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, commonly known as the Septics Bill, is now law and the next six months will be key for landowners, state officials said.
“No matter what your view is, the law is passed, and you need to get engaged on your local level in the next six months,” said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance, at last week’s meeting of the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission for Agriculture.
The law calls for “local jurisdictions to establish growth tiers to control the number of new subdivisions on septic fields,” said John Leocha, planner with the Maryland Department of Planning.
He said the purpose of the bill is to preserve agriculture, control growth in rural areas, and reduce nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay.
Leocha said the new law aims to achieve greater accountability and predictability of development by establishing four tiers of growth — those areas which will be served by public sewer and those employing on-site waste disposal, or septic, systems.
Tier I are those areas currently served by sewer.
Tier II are future growth areas planned for sewer, Tier III are large lot developments and “rural villages” on septic systems.
Tier IV includes preservation and conservation areas with no major subdivisions on septic systems.
Tier IV, which affects most ag interests, also includes areas planned for agricultural preservation or resource protection, or areas dominated by agriculture, forests, natural areas, or rural legacy areas.
The law intends that most of the tier mapping will be a reflection of existing county zoning laws, neighborhood comprehensive plans and existing sewer service.
“In the next six months, local jurisdictions should start considering how they will map their tiers,” said Leocha. “In addition, they should decide how to adjust their development review process to implement the act, including the tracking of subdivisions.”
The law will not apply to a subdivision if the application was made on or before July 1 and recorded on or before Dec. 31, due to a grandfather clause.
The law must be adopted into Maryland’s counties’ comprehensive plans by Dec. 31.
“The act provides a moderate and reasonable approach for planned development on on-site sewage disposal systems,” said Jay Sakai, director of Water Management at the Maryland Department of the Environment.
When making amendments their plans, counties must provide descriptions of their tiers and supporting documentation to MDP 60 days prior to a public hearing. MDP will distribute the data to necessary state agencies.
After Dec. 31, in Tier II — IV, minor subdivisions cannot be re-subdivided and the remaining lands may not be subdivided.
Sakai said the goal of the law is to limit the impacts of large subdivisions on septic systems on farm and forestland as well as the streams, rivers and Chesapeake and Coastal Bays. MDE is also empowered by the law to establish regulations requiring nutrient offsets for all new subdivisions, Sakai said.
“It’s minimizing nutrient impact while maximizing the (land use) potential for farm owners,” he said.
The MDP is working with the MDE on how to tweak the local development review process, Leocha said.
“There’s plenty of opportunity” in the law, said Leocha. “It’s just how, where and to what degree.”