Baltimore County councilwoman withdraws bill experts said would violate environment protection laws

Published on: August 30, 2022 4:24 PM EDT

An aerial image shows Tiki Lee's, a bar and restaurant situated on the Back River in Sparrows Point, Maryland.
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This story has been updated.

After criticism, Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins has pulled legislation that would have created sweeping exemptions from Maryland environmental protection laws for some waterfront business owners.

Shortly before the proposal was scheduled to be discussed at the County Council’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, Bevins told The Baltimore Banner in a statement that discussions with constituents, the county executive’s office and environmental groups and regulators made clear to her the bill “may have been a step too aggressive.”

The Middle River Democrat said the bill was meant to “make some tweaks” to land use regulations that make it difficult or impossible for waterfront business owners to add “minor amenities,” such as picnic tables, to properties located within the state-designated critical area — all land encompassed within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways — which is subject to stringent regulations.

“The intent of this legislation was never to allow sprawling development in our Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas,” Bevins said.

She added however that “there is a path forward” to make building regulations less onerous for waterfront businesses.

The controversial proposal would have enabled developers of waterfront restaurants and marinas that serve alcohol to build “up to the edge of the water” without undertaking mitigation requirements to offset the environmental impact of creating new impervious surface near the shoreline.

It also would have compelled the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability director to approve all permits for such construction.

Introduced earlier this month, the bill was quickly denounced by community groups, elected officials, environmental advocates and the Maryland attorney general’s office, which said the bill would have violated state regulations that have limited development around the Chesapeake Bay, its waters and tidal wetlands for nearly four decades to prevent more pollution from flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

The rule change would have made the county an outlier among state jurisdictions, which largely prevent construction within the 100-foot buffer unless a property owner can meet rigorous standards for a variance.

The County Council will meet virtually for its work session at 4 p.m.

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