Support the bill to restore important parts of the 2008 stream buffer ordinance

Please read and sign: I support the bill to restore important parts of the 2008 stream buffer ordinance.


To make a long story relatively short, here is some background information (if you want to take a deeper dive into the issue and it’s history, you can check out the links and download the files at the bottom of this page):

EPAbuffergraphicIn 2007, the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners (disclosure: I was one of the commissioners) — the Gardner Board — adopted an ordinance that established stream buffers and restrictions on permitted uses within the buffer (“waterbody buffer requirements” throughout the Linganore Watershed Protection Area (the watershed of Lake Linganore).

The ordinance was primarily designed to protect water quality for an important drinking water supply, though it offered other benefits as well. The ordinance provided greater and variable setbacks, or buffer zones, along streams, with the width varying based on the grade or slope of the adjacent land. Please note that the ordinance only affected property owners if and when there was new development (it applied only to land undergoing subdivision or resubdivision), and it did not impact farming operations in any way. Most agricultural land in the county has some development potential and rights, but these property owners can and should use these development rights beyond the stream buffer.

After the ordinance was passed, there was consideration given to applying the stream buffers and restrictions throughout the entire county. The following year, in 2008, the same Board of County Commissioners adopted an ordinance (08-21-497: “Waterbody Buffer Requirements”) that applied the Linganore Watershed Protection Area waterbody buffer requirements countywide.

That ordinance, in that form, was in place for a little more than five years, when the next Board of County Commissioners — the Young Board — acted on request of development interests, and on October 31, 2013, adopted Ordinance 13-23-651, which amended the 2008 ordinance in a number of ways that made it weaker and less effective.

The changes were described at the time as “providing increased flexibility and reducing complexity,” but they were actually a set of developer-conceived and supported changes that reduced the width of the buffer and allowed a significant number of uses within the buffer that were not permitted in the original ordinance.

If you open this five-page version of that ordinance, you can see the 2008 ordinance with the 2013 changes (new text is shown in bold CAPS and/or underlined, and deleted text is shown as strikethrough).


Today, the current county council is considering legislation, proposed by council member Jerry Donald, and co-sponsored by council member Jessica Fitzwater, that would eliminate a number of the uses and activities that the 2013 amendments permitted.

In its current form, the proposed legislation does not restore the 2008 ordinance, in full, but it is a substantial and welcome step in that direction.

Envision Frederick County, and every environmental and other groups other than development interests, opposed the changes made in 2013, and now support the initiative to restore some of the original elements that were removed then.

So, again, we would like you to express your support for the new amendments by signing the public letter here, entitled: “I support Bill 15-12, to restore important parts of the 2008 “stream buffer” ordinance in Frederick County!”

Dear Council Members,

We support Bill No. 15-12, Modifying Permitted Uses in Waterbody Buffers. Thank you for considering this matter.

Bill No. 15-12 prohibits impervious surfaces, open shelters and pole structures in waterbody buffers, and stipulates requirements that must be met for trails, roads and utilities to be located in buffers. As such, this bill is an important step in the right direction. Better protection of the county’s waterbody buffers has many benefits including:

• Improved infiltration, which is key to replenishing ground water supplies;

• Moderation of water temperatures to support fish habitat, especially for trout;

• Improved water quality as pollutants are filtered;

• Reduction of erosion as runoff from development is slowed; and

• Avoidance of costly restoration projects that never fully repair the damage from pollution, erosion and loss of forest.

Recognizing these benefits, the Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance in 2008 that provided strong protections for waterbody buffers. Unfortunately, the ordinance was significantly weakened in 2013. We are pleased that the Council is now considering ways to improve protections. We support this effort, and encourage you to consider additional steps to restore the provisions of the original 2008 ordinance.

SIDE NOTE: If you open the letter of support, you may notice that some people have been signing it who live in other states, and even other countries. While we appreciate their support, we will separate the Frederick County and Maryland names before passing them all along to the members of the Frederick County Council.

Thank you very much for your interest and support!


Here is a staff-generated list highlighting the key elements of the 2008 ordinance, and the changes made to weaken the ordinance in 2013:

2008 Ordinance Highlights:

• Established three (3) tiers of stream buffer (100 ft., 150 ft., 175 ft.), determined by the degree and extent of topographical gradient within a 175-ft. study area/cross section

• Created the “60% Rule.” If 60% of the study area/cross section is comprised of moderate slopes, the buffer is 150 feet. If steep slopes, the buffer is 175 feet.

• Minimum waterbody buffer is 100 feet (if moderate/steep threshold not met)

• Waterbody buffers must remain in their natural vegetative state (except for Forest Resource Ordinance [FRO] plantings or other environmental restoration projects)

• No buildings, structures, impervious surfaces, or clearing/grading over 5,000 square feet (roughly, a 75 ft. x 75 ft. area) EXCEPT for utilities, public and private roads, driveways, bikeways and trails. Utilities, public and private roads, and driveways require an alternative analysis/justification to be located in the waterbody buffer.

• No septic systems within buffer unless lack of alternatives exist outside the buffer

• No stockpiling, fill, or excavated material can be placed within buffer

• Allows sediment & erosion control structures/devices & stormwater management systems in buffer with justification narrative

• Included regulations to address toe, crest, and backslope conditions within a study area/cross section

• Retained 2007 regulations specific to the Linganore Watershed Protection Area to extend the buffer beyond 175’ study area/cross section under certain steep slope conditions.

2013 revisions to Waterbody Buffer Ordinance (No. 13-23-651, adopted October 31, 2013):

• Reduced overall study area/cross section from 175’ to 150’

• Reduced buffer for moderate slopes from 150’ to 125’ (“60% Rule” remains)

• Reduced buffer for steep slopes from 175’ to 150’ (“60% Rule” remains)

• Eliminated toe/crest/backslope criteria

• Eliminated specific regulations for the Linganore Watershed Protection Area

• Allows open shelters, pole-type structures, recreational uses, and recreational equipment to be placed within stream buffer consistent with floodplain regulations 2013 Ordinance revisions, continued:

• Eliminated ‘impervious surfaces’ from the list of prohibited activities within buffer

• Eliminated the requirement for a justification narrative for stormwater management systems to be located within buffer

You can download the following, as pdf files:

An Ordinance to Amend the Frederick County Zoning Ordinance To Apply Waterbody Buffer Requirements Countywide (August 15, 2008)

An Ordinance to Amend the Waterbody Buffer Requirements of the Frederick County Zoning Ordinance (November 10, 2013)

AN ACT to Modify waterbody permitted uses by providing that: (1) impervious surfaces are not provided therein; (2) open shelters and pole type structures are not permitted therein; and (3) bikeways and trails, utilities, public roads and driveway must meet certain requirements before being permitted therein. (currently pending)

The Lake Linganore Source Water Protection Plan

Envision Frederick County
Wider Stream Buffers are Better for Water Quality
September 21, 2015
by Janice Wiles

Frederick News Post
Muddied waters worry Lake Linganore residents
August 21, 2015
by Marissa Horn

Envision Frederick County
Muddy County Streams to Blame for City’s Contaminated Tap Water
June 19, 2014
by Janice Wiles

Frederick News Post
Frederick County decides to relax stream buffer requirements
November 1, 2013
By Bethany Rodgers