Leopold wants Critical Area laws strengthened

By ERIN COX, Staff Writer

County Executive John R. Leopold this morning pressed the county's General Assembly delegation to strengthen Critical Area enforcement and create more affordable housing.

This is the first time in two decades that the newly elected county executive has pursued his agenda from outside the State House.

"This is an exciting time - a very critical time - in the county's history," Mr. Leopold told the delegation, referring to the 5,000 new homes expected near Fort George G. Meade. "It is also a time to do some creative things."

His first proposal would aid in prosecution of those who violate environmental restrictions in the Critical Areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Mr. Leopold wants to extend the statute of limitations from one year to three, allowing more time to detect violations and prosecute.

Last month the county allowed a developer to keep a home he built several years ago without permits on an environmentally sensitive island in the Magothy River. Mr. Leopold's new initiative would give the county more time and by extension more options to prosecute in similar cases.

"It makes it harder for the bad guy to get away," explained County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson.

Mr. Leopold's other proposal would give County Council members power to vary the impact fees collected for new construction. The flexibility to tailor the fees, which currently are charged at a standard rate, could be used to build homes affordable for teachers, police officers and firefighters, according to county officials.

Mr. Leopold has met individually with the 15 House delegates over the past month to garner support for his ideas.

Several other perennial issues re-emerged in Mr. Leopold's agenda, which includes reforming the selection of school board members, securing more funding for school construction and creating a statewide smoking ban.

Other initiatives in his legislative requests include:

An extension to a program that offsets the cost of removing radium from wells in Severna Park, Pasadena and Severn.

Adding Anne Arundel to the list of counties that prohibit all panhandling.

Increasing funding for the Aging Schools Program that awards state tax money to rebuild old schools.

Securing state funds that improve waterways and purchase open space.

Securing state money for a new elementary school in Gambrills and a science lab renovation and addition at Arundel High School.

Published January 19, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised Jan 2007)