House OKs development fee for bay cleanup

By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A development fee that would funnel money to Chesapeake Bay restoration passed the Maryland House Saturday over objections from some that the tax would make houses more expensive and hurt job prospects in parts of the state.

The so-called "Green Fund," which passed 96-41 in a rare Saturday session, would tack on fees for creating impervious surfaces, such as buildings or parking lots. Those fees would increase if the new development is outside zones targeted for development in growth plans.

Green Fund Highlights

• Money would come from a charge on or pavement and buildings. The charge would be 50 cents per square foot; however, home construction fees would be capped at $1,500.
• Supporters estimate the fee could raise more than $100 million a year.
• Chicken houses and additions to existing homes would be exempt.
• Developers could reduce the fees they owe if they use environment-friendly techniques.
• The money would go to local governments for planning and conservation measures, to farmers and to state agencies charged with cleaning up the bay.

Environmental groups call the Green Fund critical if Maryland is to meet goals for reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. However, the bill has been significantly changed, and a good estimate of how much it will raise is not yet available. Supporters say it could raise more than $100 million a year.

A similar version is pending in the Senate, but that version has not yet made it to a vote.

Revenues generated by the development fee, supported by House Speaker Michael Busch and Gov. Martin O'Malley, would go in part to local governments for conservation efforts. Some would go to farmers to encourage conservation efforts to reduce harmful runoff, with other portions going to planning and environment departments.

Environmental groups applauded the fund's approval.

"Because Maryland is experiencing so much growth and will continue to, every year that we do nothing, we're actually taking a step backward on bay restoration," said Kim Coble, Maryland director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, sponsor of the bill, told House members that the fee is needed to change behavior and encourage more environmental-friendly development. Under the bill, developers could save up to 75 percent of the fees by such tweaks as paving with a material that allows rainwater to seep through.

"We need to change behavior," said McIntosh, D-Baltimore. "We need developers to develop right. And if they don't, they need to pay a fee."

Opponents worried that the bill could unfairly drive up the cost of new homes as base realignment is bringing jobs and growth to the state.

"This bill, regrettably, is going to drive jobs from the state of Maryland," said Republican Delegate Christopher Shank.

Another Republican, Delegate Richard Impallaria, said the goal of bay cleanup is laudable, but that the development tax wouldn't make the bay healthy.

"Just throwing money, taking money out of people's pockets, will not save the Chesapeake Bay," Impallaria said.

Green Fund supporters acknowledged that the fee will face tougher scrutiny in the Senate. But they said a hefty pot of money is required to made strides in cleaning up the bay.

"We need something that goes above and beyond the status quo," said Dawn Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

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On the Net: House Bill 1220: http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/HB1220.htm

Published March 25, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised March 2007)