The Maryland Critical Areas Commission, a panel created by the legislature last year to set guidelines on development of the "critical" 1,000-foot strip ringing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, adopted sweeping standards yesterday to slow growth in the fragile region.
Under the commission's plan, which will go to the General Assembly in January for approval, further development would be restricted along the waterfront; farmers would have to use less fertilizer and pesticides; lumberjacks would be restricted to cutting only certain trees; gravel and sand miners would have to restrict their activities to 100 feet from the water's edge, and landowners would have to build fewer houses on some property.
The commission's work is part of a larger campaign to reverse the decline of the Chesapeake Bay, the country's largest bay. As the multimillion-dollar, federal and interstate effort to save the bay enters its third year, Maryland is the only state draining into the bay that has pushed land use controls to restore the Chesapeake. Maryland officials said yesterday they hoped other states would follow their lead.
The controversial guidelines deal with development in the 16 Maryland counties and 44 municipalities edging the Chesapeake and its tributaries. They were adopted in final form yesterday by a 15-to-2 vote at a meeting at the Wye Lodge near Queenstown. Eight of the 25 members of the commission were absent for the vote, which came after adoption of a package of 16 clarifying amendments.
The commission's restrictions have met heavy opposition from agriculture, forestry, development and other interests and have been criticized for usurping local governments' traditional zoning role. Some local government officials from the Eastern Shore have been highly critical, including the two members of the commission who voted against it. But environmentalists have praised the effort as a key to saving the bay. The General Assembly, which created the commission in 1984, cannot alter the guidelines when it votes on the measures.
"People tell me I should be optimistic, but with the legislature you never really know until the last day of the session," Sarah Taylor, executive director of the commission said in a telephone interview.
If adopted, the Critical Areas Commission initiatives will go a long way toward protecting Maryland's 470,000 acres of wetlands, particularly nontidal or inland wetlands.
Wetlands are to river and bay systems what kidneys are to the human body -- traps and filters for pollutants. Like a natural sponge, wetlands also provide flood control -- absorbing excess water during times of torrential rains and slowly releasing water in droughts. Finally, wetlands are crucial spawning and feeding grounds for wildlife from fish to waterfowl and nurseries for the underwater grasses that feed them.
To accomplish that goal, the commission divided the critical areas into three land use categories:
*Intensive development: areas primarily devoted to industrial and commercial use and to more than four residential units per acre. New development of this scale would be allowed only inside areas that are already built up, with regulations to control runoff.
*Limited development: moderately developed areas that still include natural habitat with housing density ranging from four units an acre to one unit per five acres. Low intensity development would be allowed but strictly regulated.
*Resource conservation areas: including wetlands, forests, agricultural land and land with aquaculture facilities and areas with less than one housing unit for every five acres and no public water or sewer systems. Development would be restricted to one housing unit per 20 acres.
Highlights of the plan, which aims at curtailing pollution washed into the bay from cites, farms, subdivision and other land-use activities, include use of 100-foot natural or planted vegetative buffer strips along the bay and its tributaries in areas that are being used for activities such as farming. They also include stricter regulation of new subdivisions, installation of management practices that curtail fertilizer and pesticide runoff on farms, and a five-year timetable for soil conservation plans.
By Dec. 1, local governments must decide precisely how much land in their jurisdictions falls into the three development categories created by the commission. But the final regulations on development in those areas will not become official until June 1988, when the commission must approve the plans submitted by local governments.