Department of Planning & Zoning
As in all aspects of planning, the Comprehensive Plan for the County provides a basis of guidance for Environmental Planning. The Comprehensive Plan lists the conservation of the County's natural resources, the preservation of it's natural beauty and rural character, and the enhancement of its recreational amenities as one of it's primary goals. In 1996, Washington County made one of its most proactive steps toward regulating and protecting our resources by adopting the sensitive areas element of the Subdivision Ordinance.
There were five major areas that were identified for protection: 100 year floodplains, streams and their buffers, threatened and endangered species habitats, steep slopes, and "special planning areas". Washington County's special planning areas include the Edgemont and Smithsburg Reservoir watersheds, the Appalachian Trail Corridor, and the Upper Beaver Creek Basin and the Beaver Creek Trout Hatchery.
Another area of particular interest in conducting environmental planning processes is the management of our Forest Resources. In 1991, Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act. This law was passed in an effort to reduce the loss of forest resources in the State of Maryland to new development. Washington County adopted it's version of a Forest Conservation Ordinance in 1993. Washington County's Planning Staff is responsible for management of the County Forest Conservation Ordinance activities and requirements including plan review, tracking and inspections, answering questions from the public, and, in some cases, preparing delineation and conservation plans. A more detailed description of the program and its goals can be found by clicking on the Forest Conservation tab found on the Planning Home Page.
The newest environmental planning issue to Washington County is Air Quality. In 2004, the US EPA released new attainment designations for the critical pollutant ozone. Also as part of this designation, the EPA allowed some counties in the country to submit an Early Action Compact showing a commitment of the various counties to develop State Implementation Plans (SIP's) that would attempt to achieve local reductions earlier than they would otherwise be required, to demonstrate attainment of the 8-hour ozone standard. This deferred non-attainment status for ozone was granted to Washington County in August 2005. In April 2005, the US EPA also designated Washington County as non-attainment areas for the critical pollutant Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5). This designation has prompted further action to be taken at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce harmful pollutants. Daily forecasts of air quality for our area are available at www.airnow.gov.
Parks and Recreation Planning is another tool Washington County uses to help preserve our natural and cultural resources. The Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan (LPPRP) is the guidance document used to inventory, analyze, and set goals to help maintain preserved areas of land in Washington County. Funding to provide parks, open space, and recreation facilities is provided by the State in the form of Project Open Space (POS) funds. A copy of the LPPRP is available on-line under the County Ordinances tab on the Planning home page. Hard copies are also available from the Washington County Planning Department.
Each year the County POS Liaison Officer develops an annual program of projects. Input is solicited from the incorporated municipalities and the general public on acquisition of new parks and maintenance and enhancement of existing parks.
Once the initial list has been developed, the Parks Advisory Board recommends a prioritized list of projects to the Board of County Commissioners. The BOCC decides on the final list of annual projects. The Planning Department becomes involved when projects actually receive funding. Staff coordinates the park site evaluation and selection, conceptual planning and plan presentation to Parks advisory board and others. Coordination of park development between county departments and other agencies is also provided by staff, including environmental review.