Annapolis may change forest laws

May 18, 2012
By PAMELA WOOD Staff Writer

Under criticism from environmentalists, the City of Annapolis may revise laws for protecting its remaining forests.

A reconsideration of forest protection laws was in the works before a recent outcry over the proposed Reserve at Quiet Waters development, said City Manager Mike Mallinoff.

But Thursday, the subject was officially addressed.

“The policymakers need to review” the law, Mallinoff said at a City Council work session. “Maybe it needs to be a little different.”

City officials have been criticized by environmental advocates — including members of the city’s own environmental commission — who worry that trees on the Reserve at Quiet Waters property aren’t being adequately protected.

A developer is planning 150 single-family homes and town homes on the property, which sits off of Forest Drive near Quiet Waters Park.

The disturbing of a part of the property, a “priority forest,” will be allowed in order to build homes. Environmentalists have appealed the decision.

“All of us have been receiving calls and emails over the last several months,” Mayor Josh Cohen said.

The city follows the state’s Forest Conservation Act, which aims to slow the loss of the state’s forests but doesn’t prohibit felling them.

It’s largely up to cities and counties to decide how the Forest Conservation Act should be applied to proposed developments.

In addition to having the City Council consider beefing up the law, Annapolis is making changes to how it applies the current law.

First, a checklist used by the city to determine if a proposed development complies with the forest law is being revised. The new checklist will be available to the public within weeks, Mallinoff said.

Also, the city will be creating a public comment process and a clearer path for appeals of the city’s decisions on forests.

Alderman Ross Arnett asked why the forest appeals go to the city’s Building Board of Appeals, which usually handles technical construction issues.

“It seems like we’re putting this in a place that’s pretty awkward,” said Arnett, D-Ward 8.

The changes follow a closed-door meeting between city officials and state Department of Natural Resources officials last week, as well as a follow-up letter from the DNR that pointed out problems with the forest process in Annapolis.

During the 75-minute City Council work session Thursday, no direct mention was made of the Reserve at Quiet Waters project.

More than 20 people attended, most of them hoping to hear about the project.

At the end of the meeting, David Prosten from the local Sierra Club asked about the Reserve at Quiet Waters.

Cohen said the city attorney advised him not to talk about it.

“It’s a thorny issue,” he said.

A Board of Appeals hearing on the project is scheduled for June 5.

(Revised May 2012)