Houses might be allowed a little closer to Frederick County streams if officials decide to relax certain water body buffer requirements.
On Wednesday, members of the Frederick County Planning Commission will review drafted amendments to the local rules for buffers. The proposed changes would reduce minimum building setbacks, cut down the required study area around bodies of water and remove special rules that apply in the Lake Linganore area.
The county is tackling the stream buffer ordinance as it works through a list of suggestions for making the region more friendly to businesses.
Dusty Rood, president of the Land Use Council, said the proposed changes are minor and would make the stream buffer rules more compatible with state environmental standards. However, others think the drafted changes would weaken county laws and lead to stream pollution.
The current water body buffer ordinance was passed in 2008, under the board led by Commissioners President Jan Gardner, said Tim Goodfellow, principal planner for the county. Before the ordinance was enacted, the minimum setback was only 50 feet, Goodfellow said.
Determining proper setbacks now involves looking at the 175-foot slice of land on either side of a stream or surrounding a body of water. The proposed changes would reduce the study area to 150 feet on each side of a stream, Goodfellow said.
The studies examine the slope of the land surrounding the water bodies; for areas with predominantly steep slopes, buildings must sit at least 175 feet away from the water. The minimum buffer is 150 feet where slopes are mostly moderate, and for gentle inclines or flat areas, the setback is 100 feet, Goodfellow said.
The proposal set to come before the planning commission would shave 25 feet from the buffer requirements for steep or moderate slopes.
For development in the Lake Linganore area, county law now states that building setbacks must extend to the top of a steep slope, even if a hill stretches more than 175 feet, Goodfellow said. The suggested change would remove the special requirement for Linganore and hold projects in that area to the standards used in the rest of the county.
The drafted ordinance would also allow for stormwater management facilities, trails and fences inside buffer areas.
Rood said recently enacted state standards for site design require developers to scatter stormwater ponds throughout a neighborhood rather than consolidating them.
The combination of these state requirements and county buffer standards leaves less land open to development, Goodfellow said.
Rood said adjusting the county's water body buffer ordinance would prevent conflicts between the state and local rules.
"In my opinion, this is right-sizing the buffer in order to harmonize it with state water quality design requirements," Rood said. "It's a modest adjustment to facilitate good community design."
But a local nonprofit that focuses on growth issues sees it differently. A recent email by the group Friends of Frederick County pointed to a four-year report that found the majority of Frederick County streams are in poor biological health.
"As citizens plant trees beside streams and find solutions to stream pollution, Commissioners work to wither buffer zone regulations," the email stated.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.