Capital Op-Ed: “Forest conservation measure gutted”

Capital Gazette: September 24, 2016

By: Fred Kelly, Severn Riverkeeper

As Severn Riverkeeper, I can attest to the degradation of water quality from the clearing of forests. Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on redevelopment of deteriorated or vacant property, the city annexes county land, most of it forested, and then supports its development.

On the other hand, the county works with the state and environmentalists to protect forests such as the Green Cathedral, a 700-acre parcel of contiguous forest on the Severn for which our children and future generations will thank us. Can you imagine what they will say about city leaders who would clearly cut down the last tree in Annapolis for illusory monetary gain?

The city has wrongfully approved the destruction of 13 acres of forest so developers can build 152 homes at Parkside Preserve, next to Quiet Waters Park. The city approved the destruction of 9 acres of forest at Rocky Gorge and allowed the developer to quickly clear the forest, pending an appeal. Developers have submitted plans to clear about 40 acres of priority forest at Crystal Spring to build a massive development with nearly 500 new dwellings, a shopping center and a hotel. Goodbye Forest Drive, hello parking lot.

Under the Forest Conservation Act, all of these forests are “designated as priority for retention and protection and shall be left in an undisturbed condition unless the applicant has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of the City of Annapolis, that reasonable efforts have been made to protect them and the plan cannot reasonably be altered.”

I have worked with many to help protect the Green Cathedral from development and with communities to replant forests and living shorelines. Even the youngest among us knows that clearing more forests adds to polluted runoff. That’s why I have joined others in opposing the development at Crystal Spring.

Aggrieved citizens were given the right to appeal decisions to clear large amounts of forest to the city Board of Building Appeals, and then to the Circuit Court. But on Aug. 9, Judge Paul Harris denied such judicial review for the forest at Parkside Preserve because of the city’s failure to adopt a proper forest conservation law, as required under state law. The city appealed Judge Harris’ decision on judicial review, but stands by its own decision on the project.

The city has been aware of the major shortcomings caused by the failure to adopt its own forest conservation law but has failed to address them for six years. Why? Developers have blocked attempts to adopt any meaningful new law.

Now, the mayor and the City Council have agreed to eviscerate a sound forest conservation ordinance proposed by Alderman Jared Littmann. Under pressure from developers and their allies on the council, including the mayor, Alderman Littmann has agreed to a major gutting that includes taking away aggrieved citizens’ right to appeal to the Board of Building Appeals and the right the city gave us to appeal to the Circuit Court.

The law also deletes a requirement for no net loss of forest, rendering it nearly impossible for the city to attain the Comprehensive Plan canopy goal of 50 percent by 2036. Variances from the law are made easy and even the replanting provisions can be avoided by developers paying a modest fee in lieu of replanting. Because of such loopholes, developers like this emaciated proposal.

Conservation leaders who have joined in opposing this ordinance include the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, the Sierra Club, the South River Federation, Save Your Annapolis Neck, former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad and Jim Urban, an urban forestry expert and former chairman of the city Planning Commission.

Like the school overcrowding bill that was amended to appease the development community, this new ordinance will do nothing to rein in overdevelopment. Both our schools and our forests will suffer. Without protecting our remaining forests, our creeks and streams are doomed.

Who do the mayor and council think they are in fooling with such laws? Let’s look to next year’s elections to change the paradigm.

Fred Kelly is the Severn Riverkeeper.

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