Three fast-growing counties on the Chesapeake Bay have temporarily banned development on valuable shoreline properties to prepare to meet new state regulations restricting the development of waterfront land.
Officials in Anne Arundel County, which has 450 miles of meandering shoreline, proposed a temporary moratorium last week on the development of new subdivisions within 1,000 feet of the bay. The County Council is expected to approve the ban this month. Moratoriums already are in place in Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, two scenic jurisdictions on Maryland's Eastern Shore that are experiencing rapid growth.
A spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson said yesterday that county officials were studying whether to require similar restrictions on development. The county has about 175 miles of shoreline along the bay.
The prohibition on new development comes in response to a flood of building applications that began late last year, shortly before the General Assembly was scheduled to debate whether to limit building along the nation's largest estuary. In April, the legislature passed regulations that severely restrict land use in "critical areas" within 1,000 feet of the bay and its tributaries. The regulations are intended to reduce land erosion and the flow of pollutants into the bay by slowing development along the shoreline, by forcing farmers to move their operations farther from the water, and by preserving woodlands and wildlife habitats.
The 15 bay counties affected by the regulations have until the end of the year to map out critical areas and to designate what properties are developed and undeveloped. Under the state regulations, intensive building can take place in only 5 percent of the undeveloped areas. On the remaining 95 percent of undeveloped land, the legislation allows construction of one house per 20 acres.
Officials in Anne Arundel, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties said they imposed the moratoriums because the rate of development was outpacing planners who need time to identify the critical areas of the shoreline. Officials also feared that building was occurring so quickly that intensive development on restricted lands would occur without proper planning and zoning.
Joseph Stevens, an environmental planner in Queen Anne's County, which imposed a moratorium in January, said county officials were worried about a rush of development on Kent Island, on the east side of the Bay Bridge, where waterfront land rapidly is being consumed by new housing.
Anne Arundel's planning director, Becky Kurdle, said it became clear by the middle of April that the number of applications for major subdivisions near the shoreline was soaring. She said 11 applications were filed between January and April 15, compared with 22 in all of last year.
"The thing that has made Anne Arundel so sought after is the waterfront -- the Chesapeake Bay," said William Utz, president of the Anne Arundel Home Builders' Assocation, who concedes that the building moratorium in the county "was something that had to be done."
While environmentalists have welcomed the critical areas rules and the building bans imposed by the counties, home builders frequently have complained that the regulations and the moratoriums are likely to push up housing prices and lower the tax base.
"I think it was an overaction," said Janet Eveleth, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Home Builders' Association, who estimated that property values along the bay were 10 percent higher on average than those farther inland. "I don't think that was necessary." She said the increases in applications for building permits in the three counties was not a land rush prompted by the legislation, but more the result of low-interest rates.
Planners have said that mapping out the precise boundaries of the critical areas is time-consuming because it involves difficult measurements, such as reading tide marks in marshy inlets and identifying natural habitat areas.
"The regulation reads that certain wildlife habitats have to be protected, and I haven't done the analysis to know where these wildlife habitats are," said Stevens.
In Talbot County, long favored by the wealthy who own waterfront estates and hunting lodges in the area, county planning director Deborah A. Bauer said officials were studying whether to extend a six-month moratorium imposed in December after a rush of building applications. Applications for subdivisions nearly doubled, from 47 in 1984 to 99 in 1985, she said. Bauer said that if the county commissioners do not extend the moratorium the county will face "an avalanche" of new applications.
"One of the most valuable things out of the critical areas legislation is to get the counties to stop and think," said Stephen M. Bunker, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a private conservation group that lobbied for the new regulations and has set up a team to monitor their implementation. "The counties are going to have to do some land zoning, and planning future use for private land. That's not politically easy, but they can blame the state now."