Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner remembers getting letters from students who were distraught about the number of trees being cut down for new homes near Oakdale High School several years ago.
Back in 2011, the county commissioners had eliminated their previous 1:1 rule that required that each acre of forest that was eliminated for new development be replaced with another acre. It had a devastating effect: The county lost 480 acres between 2012 and 2019.
Now, Gardner (D) is proposing legislation that would put that ratio back in place and protect the county’s environmental resources. While she acknowledged that it will probably face opposition, she also noted that the current County Council is more environmentally minded than county officials of the past.
“My proposal will protect what our community values, our forest cover, our environmental resources and our rich history, before any new development is approved, so we can ensure a bright future for Frederick County,” Gardner said at her announcement Friday morning.
The Forest Resource Ordinance would exempt agricultural operations. It would also exempt individual residences, so that residents who want to cut down a tree in their yard would not be required to plant a new one.
The transferring of lots to children would also be exempt if less than 20,000 square feet of forest is cleared. Any lot that was recorded before 1992 would also be exempt if the forest clearing is under 20,000 square feet.
It would mainly apply to new developments, which often cut down multiple acres of trees in order to build.
Gardner said that the added trees would protect Frederick County’s resources, including helping to reduce runoff, which can help decrease phosphorus and nitrogen levels, in addition to providing shade and shelter.
Another proposal would apply to the zoning ordinance, so that the environmental and historical resources are identified before a property is allowed to rezone. It will also require the applicants to identify how they will minimize the impact of the rezoning on those resources.
The announcement comes after the County Council introduced a climate change resolution that would hold the county accountable to greatly reduce greenhouse emissions in the upcoming decades.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) will introduce the legislation, and it is to be addressed at a Feb. 25 workshop. The bill will later be discussed at a public hearing.
“Our time to take action is now,” Gardner said.