SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Council is taking steps to submit a tier map to the state following several weeks of public outreach and a public hearing regarding the ongoing “septic bill”.
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, also referred to as the “septic bill,” requires counties to make a number of changes to their subdivision codes, including the adoption of a four tier system for categorizing the development of land in the county and the determination of the type of sewer system that will serve the subdivisions in the tiers.
Tiers II and III would allow major subdivisions to be built on septic systems in either a limited capacity or after a public hearing and approval of the Planning Commission, respectively. Tiers I and IV would not allow any major subdivisions to be built on septic systems.
Each county is responsible for designating its own tiers. Once the jurisdictions have created a map, the next step is to forward it on to the Maryland Department of the Environment for review and comments. Once the final tiers have been confirmed, the county would then adopt the map.
The County Council got over the first hurdle that states within the Tier IV area residential subdivisions are not permitted without an exemption from the state.
Defined by county law, residential minor subdivisions can be served by on-site sewage disposal systems. At that time, the council approved a definition of a “Tier IV minor subdivision,” which will allow up to seven lots.
Moving forward, the County Council has established a public participation program to notify rural property owners about the potential impacts associated with the changes.
Property owners in the A1 Agricultural-Rural Zoning District that fit certain criteria, such as those who do not fall under the wetlands district and those who own over two acres, should have received a postcard stating, “The Bill may limit the number of residential septic systems that may be located on your property. In addition, this legislation may impact the future use and value of your property. The Council is accepting and considering requests to be removed from the area proposed for limiting septic systems…”
“Over the past few weeks the county has done extensive public outreach to encourage citizens to become involved in the tier map discussion the county is currently having in regards to trying to implement Sustainable Growth and Preservation Act of 2012,” Chief Long-range and Transportation Planning Keith Hall said last week.
Over 3,100 postcards have been mailed out, the department has received hundreds of phone calls asking for more information and a public hearing held on Feb. 20 was well attended.
Currently, the A1 zoning district is being considered for Tier IV, which represents about 75 percent of the land in Wicomico County. As of Friday, March 1, the planning department has received approximately 97 property owners requesting to opt out, which totals 267 properties and 14,500 acres of land. The A1 district is about 185,000 square acres.
On the other hand, the department has received about five requests to remain in Tier IV totaling about 300 acres.
Councilman Bob Culver felt with the progress made it is time for the county to move forward in submitting a tier map to the state for review.
“I am still feeling like we should send the tier map in that we have to show what we already have preserved in farmland and wetlands … as it stands now until we send this map in we cannot have any subdivisions brought to us over seven lots,” Culver said.
Hall concurred the Planning and Zoning Commission will not be able to approve the request for subdivisions, except for those that have already been preliminary approved prior to October of 2012 and are grandfathered until October of 2016.
Culver suggested to the council to submit the tier map that was presented over a month ago that included farm preservation and wet lands in Tier IV at least as a starting point.
“We are going to continue to try to add to those pieces if we can but this way we can leave the opportunity open to have major subdivisions … I don’t want to take away anybody’s rights but until we get something to the state we can’t do anything in the way of a subdivision,” he said.
Hall added the tier map can be amended administratively as property owners choose to opt in or out, but once the map becomes part of the Comprehensive Plan changes will become more difficult.
“Frankly I would prefer to see your office continue to identify more properties to go into Tier III,” Councilman John Hall said. “I would like to see more that are willing to opt in.”
Council President Matt Holloway asked Keith Hall to attend the council’s next meeting equipped with the first map presented that has farm preservation and wetlands representing Tier IV, a second map representing the properties that have responded to opt in or out, and third map converging the two.
The council came to an agreement that would be the best direction to go in coming to a decision on what to submit to the state.