We are writing in regards to your comments made during your State of the County at the Legislative Breakfast on January 19th. Regarding the Growth Development Plan, you indicated you would not be changing the current balance of 49% development and 51% rural or protected areas, while siting concerns about school crowding, smart growth and the need to preserve the rural character of Anne Arundel County. You then went on to say that you plan to hold the line on developing land, that there are important forests in this County, and you will not be changing the balance.
While we are glad you stressed the importance of forests in the County, keeping the status quo of 49% to 51% does not actually protect our forests, as the vast majority of “undeveloped” land is agricultural. Agricultural land, which contributes to the poor water quality of our rivers and bay, is generally clear cut, and contains none of the benefits of forested land, such as carbon sequestration, and habitat protection. In addition, the status quo balance does nothing to address your concerns about school crowding, as it allows for further infilling in developed areas, increasing enrollment at our already overcrowded schools.
WISE is supporting the Amendment to the Forest Conservation Act, as Anne Arundel County has suffered a devastating net loss of forests. In focusing only on the forests and open spaces in the County’s rural south, you are failing to protect water quality and quality of life in our urban and suburban communities. To “balance” development in the county by sacrificing the natural and forested places in the northern developed half in favor of the southern agricultural half gives a false impression of an environmentally sound county wide development plan, when in fact it priorities one region over another.
Our county has one of the state’s highest rates of deforestation. Even if the FCA bill is passed and complied with this would be doing the bare minimum. We are encouraging you to lead Anne Arundel beyond that minimum through means such as implementing a No Net Loss standard. Carroll County is currently the only county that requires 1:1 replacement of forests, but several other counties have made a number of improvements like protecting a broader category of forests, eliminating the fee-in-lieu requirement, or increasing conservation thresholds.
As residents of the densely populated urban and suburban areas we are asking you to go beyond the misleading status quo of 49% to 51% and make deforestation and replacement of forest throughout the county a top development priority. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this further.