Limitations on Rural Sprawl in Maryland Nixed
The Maryland Department of the Environment has removed a requirement for nitrogen removing septic systems except when located next to bodies of water. As Tom Horton of the Bay Journal News Service writes, this change has the potential to generate new rural sprawl development by making development cheaper.
In 2012, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley passed a law that limited development on primarily agricultural and forest lands and instituted a requirement that new septic systems remove nitrogens, which Horton writes made development more expensive, but also less polluting. The benefit had been to add another barrier to residential development in sensitive areas.
The ties between septic tanks and the countryside are widely underappreciated. State health laws have long served as a crude substitute for more protective rural zoning, which bars development on significant acreages where soils were too soggy, too sloped, too rocky to pass “percolation” tests required to site septic tanks.
“Without septic, you don’t have sprawl,” said Richard Hall, who was Maryland’s secretary of planning for eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s predecessor.
The repeal of the septic requirements by current Governor Larry Hogan open the way for what Horton describes as a "backsliding," with areas previously open to limited development now once again viable for sprawl development.