SB 236: The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012


Purpose: SB 236 is intended to help clean up the Bay and its tributaries by limiting subdivisions that rely on septic systems and encouraging development in areas that have or will have public sewer service. Major developments with septic systems pollute local waters and the Bay, fragment agricultural and forest land, undermine agri-business, and burden local governments with disproportionately high costs for providing services.

Connection to Cleaning Local Waters: Without action to reduce nitrogen loads from new developments on septic systems, the Bay pollution diet will force other sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and agriculture, to reduce their loads even further. This will constrain economic growth and place additional burdens on the agricultural community and local governments.

The Tiers: The Act establishes four tiers that increasingly limit the type of development that can occur. Local jurisdictions have been directed to map the growth tiers based on existing plans and goals for growth management. The tier maps will reflect existing zoning, comprehensive plans, and water and sewer plans.

Tier I: Developed and Developing Areas

  • Served by public sewer


Tier II: Areas for Future Development

  • Planned to be served by public sewer – septic systems are considered temporary


Tier III: Large Lot Development Areas

  • Not planned for sewer service
  • Not dominated by agricultural or forest land
  • Not planned/zoned for agriculture, resource protection, conservation, or preservation
  • Planned/zoned for large lot development
  • Rural villages and municipalities without public sewer


Tier IV: Areas for Agriculture and Environmental Protection

  • Not planned for sewer service
  • Dominated by agricultural or forest land or other natural areas
  • Planned/zoned for agriculture, resource protection, conservation, or preservation
  • Priority Preservation Areas
  • Rural Legacy Areas
  • Areas subject to easements, covenants, or restrictions for natural resource conservation or agricultural land preservation


What if growth tiers are not adopted by the December 31, 2012 deadline?

If a local jurisdiction decides not to adopt growth tiers or is unable to adopt them by the December 31, 2012 deadline, major residential subdivisions cannot be approved outside of areas with public sewer. Only residential subdivisions are impacted; commercial and industrial development are not.

If growth tiers are adopted, where are major subdivisions on septic systems permitted?

Major subdivisions on septic systems cannot occur in any tier except Tier III unless the jurisdiction qualifies for an exemption. To qualify, subdivision and zoning regulations in the jurisdiction’s Tier IV areas must result in a lot yield of not more than one dwelling unit per 20 acres. If an exemption is granted, major subdivisions are permitted in Tier IV.

How are major and minor subdivision defined?

Major and minor subdivision are defined by the local jurisdiction’s code, provided the number of lots in a minor subdivision does not exceed seven. If there are no locally adopted definitions, a major subdivision is five or more lots. A minor subdivision is fewer than five lots.

How will the tiers be adopted and incorporated into the comprehensive plan?

Initially the tiers may be adopted administratively by letter from the local jurisdiction’s planning director, or chief appointed or elected official. The local jurisdiction then needs to incorporate the tiers into the comprehensive plan when the next plan review/update is undertaken.

How can the tiers be changed?

A local jurisdiction can change the tiers administratively until the tiers are included in the comprehensive plan. Once the tiers are included in the comprehensive plan, they can be changed only through the comprehensive planning process.

What happens if the state and the local jurisdiction disagree on tier designations?

If there is disagreement about tier designations, the state Department of Planning will issue comments and the local jurisdiction must hold a public hearing to consider the comments. The jurisdiction may then change the tier map or leave it as is.

How will implementation of SB236 be reported?

Maryland Department of Planning must report to the General Assembly the status of SB236 implementation no later than February 1, 2013. The report must identify both those jurisdictions that have adopted growth tiers and those to which MDP provided comments on the tiers. With this information, the General Assembly will be able to reevaluate the provisions of the law during the session.

About Us

The Wicomico Environmental Trust advocates for policies and programs that preserve and protect nature in our county and the Chesapeake Bay region. We work with other nonprofits, government, businesses, and individuals to keep our water, forests, and farmland beautiful and healthy for future generations to enjoy.

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