(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) this month filed a lawsuit in Harford County Circuit Court seeking judicial review of the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning's decision to approve the forest conservation plan for Abingdon Business Park.
The development plan for the proposed business park calls for building about 2 million square feet of warehouse space and other structures on a 326-acre wooded property near the Route 24 and I-95 interchange. The property contains part of the Haha Branch stream, which drains into the Bush River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
CBF, together with nearby property owners, is contesting the department's decision to approve the forest conservation plan because the removal of trees from more than 200 acres of forested land could negatively impact water quality and neighboring properties. Among other things, the department's approval failed to explain why the developer's plans to replace the existing forest with impervious surface would not impact water quality.
As part of the department's decision, the developer is allowed to remove 49 specimen trees that are on the property. These trees are old and large, and they filter significantly more water than smaller trees. The department's decision included a waiver to remove these trees as part of the developer's forest conservation plan without examining if there were ways to preserve these important trees or what effect removing them would have on the Haha Branch and Bush River.
CBF is asking the court to reverse the approval of the forest conservation plan and remand the decision to the zoning department so that the department can ensure that all reasonable site development alternatives are considered to protect water quality.
Already the Bush River is classified as impaired due to high levels of sediment from stormwater runoff. Removing a large forest stand in the Bush River watershed and replacing it with impervious surface without fully examining potential water quality impacts may further exacerbate pollution issues in the Bush River.
CBF's Staff Litigation Attorney Paul Smail issued the following statement about the lawsuit:
"Protecting the Chesapeake Bay requires protecting trees, and clear-cutting more than 200 acres of forest will pose real risks to nearby waterways and properties. We're asking the court to review this development approval process to make sure Harford County officials fully examined these impacts and considered changes to reduce them. At this point, we don't believe that has been considered."