approves "riparian buffer" without requiring it to meet code
One of the first acts of the new Emmitsburg town board this week was to
approve a "riparian buffer" at the request of the sisters with the Daughters of
Charity, but the board did it without requiring the buffer meet the
provisions for it under the town's code.
A riparian buffer is a conservation area along the perimeters of a body of
water, and it would be built along the Daughters of Charity property on
The town's ordinance requires a request for a buffer in the form of a
written application, that it be approved by a state or federal agency, and that
plantings of warm-weather grasses are to be discouraged. The plan would outline
exactly where the buffer will be and what will be planted there, among other
Hoover said the town's new board approved a request for the buffer made
during the Monday night meeting despite not having any of the documentation
about the request.
In addition, new board president Bill O'Neil announced earlier in the
evening that town residents would get more information on what will be
discussed in meetings in advance, so they can make informed comments on the
issues. The buffer request was not on the agenda and no residents had notice it
would be discussed, Hoover said.
At the referral of Hoover, town planner Mike Lucas explained Wednesday that
the application for the buffer was received by the town April 23, and a request
for the issue to be placed on the May 3 agenda was received on April 28.
The deadline for getting non-emergency items on a town agenda is usually one
month before the meeting date, in this case April 1.
Hoover said the vote should have been postponed until the board members, and
particularly the two new board members who had never heard or read any of the
documentation in any official capacity, had a chance to review the ordinance.
In addition, the board needed to review the application and get
recommendations from town staff.
Lucas said he was not asked for an opinion from the board and the buffer was
approved without any condition requiring it to comply with a state or federal
program. The application submitted for the buffer does not indicate approval by
O'Neil said the organization has been working on the buffer for two years,
and had requested a text amendment to the town's ordinances to allow the
buffer, which was approved last year. He said he was familiar with what has
been going on with the request, but thought the buffer itself had also been
approved last year.
Questioned Wednesday, O'Neil said he had not seen the organization's
application to the town and acknowledged that no opinion was obtained from the
staff about whether it met the guidelines of the new ordinance.
He said that he and the board believed the buffer had already been approved,
and wanted to expedite something that seemed to have been in the works for too
Everyone on the board had been "kept apprised" of the issue as it was going,
even O'Neil and new commissioner Dianne Walbrecker, who both knew about the
issue, he said.
"We just thought it was good to move forward," he said.
O'Neil said he believed the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had
reviewed and approved the plan, and so there seemed no reason to delay a
decision further. He said the sisters with the Daughters of Charity told him
According to the application submitted by the sisters, the program will
partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it is not signed off as
approved by that agency, Lucas said. There is no information available that the
plan was approved by the state either, he said. In addition, the plan submitted
by the sisters is for the spring of 2001 to the summer of 2003, which is mostly
before the town even had a riparian buffer ordinance, and it included the
planting of warm weather grasses, something the town's ordinance strongly
discourages. That ordinance was created in 2003, he said.
Lucas received a letter just a couple of days before the town meeting saying
grasses would be replaced with wildflowers, but that was not in the
submitted plan. He did not have an opportunity to review the plan in total
since it was received only five business days before the town meeting and was
not scheduled for the May agenda, he said.
O'Neil said the town staff did say there were materials the board should
review, but "not with the force" that indicated they had to review them before
they acted on the request.
"What people need to know is these are growing pains and it was our first
meeting ... and we had been dealing with the riparian buffer ... and the
sisters program for at least nine months ... and they kept going through the
details to where I frankly thought it was just layer upon layer upon layer
about a program whose soul purpose is to prevent erosion along the banks of the
creek," O'Neil said. "It's a good program. If any mistake was made or if anyone
was offended, I apologize. We won't make that mistake again."