State to review Annapolis forest preservation program

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital Gazette, May 8, 2012

The state is reviewing whether forest conservation laws are being followed in Annapolis as a controversial housing development moves toward approval.

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources forestry experts will meet with city officials Wednesday to discuss the Reserve at Quiet Waters.

The project would include 156 single-family homes and townhomes off Forest Drive near Hillsmere Drive. It passed muster with the Annapolis Planning Commission and is before the city’s Board of Appeals.

But some environmentalists and community activists question whether the Reserve’s plans follow the state’s Forest Conservation Act.

“What the state is saying is they’ve given us a standard and they’ve said to the city, ‘We want you to enforce our standard.’ The city is not doing that with any vigor,” said Anastasia Hopkinson, an organizer of Save Your Annapolis Neck, a community group.

Questions about the forest laws have also been raised by the Sierra Club, the South River Federation, the Annapolis Environmental Commission and residents along the Forest Drive corridor.

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen said he thought it best to ask the state to review the issue.

“It’s hard to bring the parties to the table in a collaborative way and have a process that works if one of the key stakeholder groups — meaning some in the environmental community — are saying the city is not in compliance,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he is confident city employees are following the law, and intends meet with environmentalists, developers and aldermen to talk about forest conservation and the Reserve at Quiet Waters.

Environmentalists and activists claim that the plans involve building in areas that should be protected under state laws.

The developers from Chesapeake Realty Partners have said they are preserving a 300-foot-wide corridor of trees through the center of the property.

The mayor said that’s an improvement from the initial plan, which had a less than 100-foot-wide buffer. And he said more than 50 percent of trees on the site will be protected, up from less than 40 percent originally.

But the environmentalists and activists contend some of the trees to be cut down are in an area that meets the criteria to trigger a requirement that the trees remain untouched if at all possible. They question the justification given for disturbing those trees.

Chesapeake Realty Partners could not be reached for comment.

Marian Honeczy, supervisor of urban and community forestry for the Department of Natural Resources, said the goal of 1991 state Forest Conservation Act is to conserve forests.

But she said the law does not say that forests can’t ever be cut down.

“We’re not trying to prevent development. It’s not ‘no forest can be cut,’” Honeczy said.

Developers must create an inventory that describes the forest and its characteristics. This is often done by a consultant hired by the developer.

Once the local government OKs the inventory, the developer submits a plan on how to balance development with preserving forests.

The state forest law sets benchmarks by type of property for how much tree cover must be preserved and whether the property owner will have to plant more trees.

An appeal to the city’s approval of the forest plan for the Reserve at Quiet Waters will be considered by the city’s Building Board of Appeals on May 29.

Meanwhile, the city’s Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing on the project on June 5.

pwood@capgaznews.com

(Revised April 2012)