Fixing Howard’s ‘tiers’

The following is a letter to the editor published by The Howard County Times on March 3, 2017 and written by County Executive Allan Kittleman. Click here to read the article on the Howard County Times’ website.

Five years ago, the state of Maryland passed a law that required local jurisdictions to establish “growth tiers” to limit development in certain areas of the county. In enacting the local legislation to comply with the state mandate, Howard County negatively impacted some farmers by stripping them of their basic property rights.

Earlier this year, I filed legislation (Council Bill 16-2017) designed to restore property rights to three dozen landowners by shifting them from the state’s very restrictive Tier IV designation to Tier III, essentially returning these properties to a previous status.

Returning to them their rights and their property values is simply the right thing to do. In most cases, this change will not spur additional development but rather will help the owners maintain their farm operations for years to come. I live on a family farm, and I can assure you that farming is not a lucrative business. Farmers have invested in their land over many years to make them profitable, and farm families depend on the value of their land to access lines of credit and other financing tools to fund farming operations. This is important because cash flow on a farm can fluctuate from season to season.

Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation about CB16 that I must address.

The notion that this bill could have a negative impact on the environment, as some have alleged, couldn’t be further from the truth. This bill affects just 1,615 of the 94,000 acres in western Howard County, or about 1.7 percent of the land. At most, a maximum of just 238 homes could be built as a result of this legislation, though in reality, the number is expected to be much lower because steep slopes, access issues and other constraints will limit development opportunities. Further, should any landowners decide to develop their properties, they will still be subject to the same environmental rules that apply to any new development, which in many instances will reduce the amount of runoff.

Interestingly, in the fall of 2012, four of the current council members voted in favor of an amendment to the initial “growth tiers” legislation. The amendment included language that was very similar to that in CB 16. In fact, the amendment would have actually allowed for more development than will be permitted under my proposal. The previous county executive vetoed that amended bill and, unfortunately, the council did not take a vote to override the veto. Our current growth tiers law was enacted in 2013, when the county executive filed a second piece of legislation which was approved by the council.

I am committed to preserving our environment, and I am also committed to ensuring our agricultural economy thrives. I have encouraged environmentally friendly programs such as a public-private partnership to rebuild streams near farmland and have championed a program that will give $100 rebates to those who pump out their septic systems. Both programs will help Howard County reach its stormwater management goals.

As the son of a farmer, I was taught that the land is a farmer’s life investment. While I understand the concerns of those who want to limit development, please know that this bill is not about promoting or not promoting development. It is about basic property rights and preserving our farming heritage.

Allan H. Kittleman, Ellicott City
The writer, a Republican, is Howard County Executive.

UPDATE (March 7th, 2017): The Howard County Council voted to defeat CB16 by a margin of 4-1 on March 6th, 2017. Only Councilman Greg Fox voted in support of passage.

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Posted by Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman on Tuesday, February 14, 2017

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