Berlin Okay With ‘Septic Bill’

BERLIN — Adopting a tier map as part of the much talked about “Septic Bill” should allow Berlin more control over expansion and town limit definition than ever before, according to state officials.

“That’s probably the most leverage that the municipalities have ever had as far as protecting the integrity of your designated growth areas,” Maryland Department of Planning Lower Eastern Shore Regional Office Director Tracy Gordy told the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday.

The town has mapped its land in accordance with Senate Bill 236, more commonly known as the “Septic Bill.” Worcester County has not yet accepted the bill, however, so the map Berlin currently has is only a draft.

Senate Bill 236 is a controversial piece of legislation. Supporters consider it an effective way to limit urban sprawl and reduce runoff pollution from septics into the Chesapeake Bay. Opponents have criticized the restrictions it places on developers and the way it would force counties to divide their land into one of four “tiers,” each with specific limitations for the construction of major subdivisions on septic systems.

Gordy acknowledged Monday the bill has received considerable press despite only being a few months old.

“It’s been getting a lot of attention as of late,” she said.

But Gordy told the council that while officials at the county level might be worried about the restrictions in the bill, municipalities should see benefits in how it allows them to define their own growth areas.

“That’s why I’m here tonight to impress upon you the importance of the municipalities doing the mapping because a lot of the municipalities didn’t think that this bill mattered as much to them. But in fact, it really does,” she said.

Because of their more urban nature, Gordy explained that town tier maps will likely only deal with Tier I and Tier II uses of land. Senate Bill 236 also recognizes exiting municipal boundaries and their designated growth areas. While towns have been able to note those growth areas in the past, Gordy told the council that a tier map would serve to lock that area in.

Mayor Gee Williams admitted that protecting growth areas has been a challenge in the past.

“This has always been a concern for towns that are developing, that aren’t dying,” he said. “We don’t want to set-up all of these rules, all of these regulations, all of these boundaries, all these standards and then just have the county build right around it and you can’t even tell where the town starts. And that, basically to me, is a significant loss of quality of life.”

Berlin wants to have “defined limits,” the mayor continued, that allow plenty of room for expansion for generations but are not so loose that the town could sprawl out unevenly and indefinitely. He added that Berlin doesn’t ever want to end up looking like Salisbury.

Like Williams, Gordy also felt it important to allow towns to grow in a controlled manner.

“One of the things, one of the most important things that makes the shore special is our municipalities, our quaint towns,” she said.

Other towns like Snow Hill have also drafted early tier maps, added Gordy. At this point, the ball is in the county’s court. Though everything might look good at the town’s end, the County Commission is still in the process of collecting feedback from residents. Last week, the commission wrapped-up a series of public information sessions on the bill, which officials, and Gordy, have called “complex.”

The deadline for Worcester accepting the tier system is Jan. 1. If it is not accepted by then, no new major subdivisions on septic can be built anywhere in the county.