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Howard County Council Approves County Executive Ball’s Legislation Regarding Forest Conservation, New Age Requirements for Tobacco and Electronic Cigarettes Purchasing, Alternative Compliance for Land Development Regulations, and Setbacks and Height Requirements for High School 13

December 6, 2019

Media Contact: 
Scott Peterson, Director of Communications, Director of Communications, 202-277-9412

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Earlier this week, the Howard County Council has approved four pieces of legislation proposed by County Executive Calvin Ball – updates to the Forest Conservation Act, a bill to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes products in Howard County from 18 to 21, alternative compliance legislation, and setbacks and height requirements for High School 13.

“I thank the Howard County Council for voting in favor of these important pieces of legislation that will help protect the health and welfare of our environment and our residents, hold developers accountable, and make progress on building Howard County’s 13th high school” said Ball. “As we conclude our first year in office this week, I am grateful for our collaboration with the Howard County Council and pleased with the legislation that we worked on together and passed over the past year.”

1)   Forest Conservation Act  

The Howard County Forest Conservation Act, which had not been updated since the 1990s, will ensure Howard County is in compliance with state law while strengthening environmental regulation. The Maryland Forest Conservation Act was created to minimize the loss of Maryland's forest resources during land development by making the identification and protection of forests an integral part of the site planning process. Ball’s updates will ensure County compliance, increase forest retention and replanting, reduce use of fee-in-lieu, and improve safeguards for the environment. In addition, Ball is giving away 2,000 free trees to Howard County residents to promote new planting in the community. Photos from the event can be found here. Video can be found here.

“Our forests are critical to our natural ecosystems, powerful tools in the fight against climate change, and a necessity for human life,” said Ball. “The state of Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act to safeguard our forest resources during land development. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to finally make sure Howard County is not only compliant with this legislation, but that we also go further. We must ensure that the future of development in Howard County is smarter, more transparent, and more environmentally conscious. This is major step forward to protect our forests and our future.”

The Forest Conservation Act updates include:

  • Full compliance with State law through more than a dozen legislative updates, including required on-site retention for champion and specimen trees.
  • Increased replanting obligations to ensure developers contribute to reforestation efforts across the entire watershed.
  • Improved stewardship of the Green Infrastructure Network (GIN), which maps the most ecologically valuable forests, wetlands, meadows, waterways, and other natural areas as well as the lands that connect them together. The updated will add GIN to retention and reforestation priorities, as well as requiring its inclusion on development plans.
  • Added new site design requirements so residential developments must meet 75% of their forest conservation obligations on-site before off-site compliance can be considered. Also, nonresidential developments must protect all sensitive areas with Forest Conservation Easements.
  • Strengthened fee-in-lieu regulation so a maximum of one acre forest obligation can be met through fee-in-lieu in a residential development. Inside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.75 to $1.25 per square foot. Outside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.95 to $1.50 per square foot. The per square foot for non-compliance was raised from $1.20 (current) to $5.00 (as adopted).
  • Tightened variance regulation to limit exceptions. Now, variances will only be granted to applicants meeting the unwarranted hardship standard.

2)   Bill To Raise Age For Tobacco and E-cigarette Purchases From 18 To 21 in Howard County

This legislation raises the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products and electronic smoking devices (also known as “e-cigarettes” or “vaping” devices) from 18 to 21 in Howard County. This bill will also amend what constitutes proof of age to purchase tobacco or electronic smoking devices. Consistent with state law, consumers will no longer be allowed to provide an employer or college identification documents; only government issued identification documents will be allowed to conduct purchases.

Beginning October 1, 2019, the new minimum sales age for all tobacco products in Maryland was raised to 21 according to State Law. This legislation updates the Howard County Code to be consistent with the new state law and will include the state law exemption for active duty military under the age of 21.

“The safety of our young people is a top priority of my administration and the responsibility of our entire community,” said Ball. “We know that most adults who smoke or use tobacco started by age 21. In addition, in 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, reported current e-cigarette use. This legislation would slow this rise, decrease access to e-cigarettes and reduce the likelihood of young people ever starting to use tobacco. By raising the minimum age, we would be keeping our kids healthy and decreasing their chance of lifelong addiction.”

According to the Howard County Health Department, the use of electronic smoking devices could lead to inhaling chemicals that cause lung disease and possibly death. Additionally, users of these devices can also become addicted to nicotine which can damage the brain. For more information and resources on smoking and electronic smoking devices, please visit the Howard County Health Department’s TeenHealthMatters website.

3)   Waiver and Alternative Compliance Legislation for land development regulations

This legislation adds new criteria for reviewing Alternative Compliance applications, with a focus on stricter requirements, especially around environmental regulations. It also creates a multi-agency process for the approval of certain Alternative Compliance requests, adding the Office of Community Sustainability and Rec and Parks Department as required reviewers. This legislation follows the October launch of a webpage that provides enhanced access into the

County’s Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) Alternative Compliance process, which can grant relief from strict compliance with specific land development regulations.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of good government and a priority of my administration,” said Ball. “We are making it easier than ever for residents to learn about our land development regulations and access all of our Alternative Compliance information. This legislation will make development requirements stricter and our environmental protections stronger. The future of development in Howard County will be smarter, more transparent, and more environmentally conscious.”

4)   Setbacks and Height Requirements for High School 13

This legislation established variances for government use from the use of setbacks and height requirements of the new 13th high school in Howard County along Mission Road in Jessup. Earlier this year, County Executive Ball proposed, and the County Council passed, legislation for landsite acquisition. Groundbreaking of this new high school is set for spring of 2020 with an opening of the school expected for the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year.

“Alleviating school overcrowding is a priority for me and moving forward with this legislation will help us make significant progress,” said Ball. “With input and support from our community, we are making progress on school overcrowding. Working together, we will build High School 13.”