Dorchester County, MD
 
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Board of County Commissioners of Dorchester County 8-23-88 as Ord. No. 142. Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Agricultural land preservation — See Ch. 60.
Grading, erosion and sediment control — See Ch. 100.
Stormwater management — See Ch. 134.
Subdivision regulations — See Ch. 140.
Zoning — See Ch. 155.

§ 62-1 Title.

This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the "Agricultural Use Ordinance of Dorchester County, Maryland."

§ 62-2 Purpose and authority.

A. 
Purpose. The purpose of this chapter is to protect, maintain and enhance the public health, safety and general welfare by establishing minimum requirements and procedures associated with agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay critical area.[1] The implementation of best management practices will assist in the attainment and maintenance of water quality standards and will protect valuable plant and wildlife habitat.
[1]
Editor's Note: The Critical Area Protection Program was adopted 8-23-88 by Res. No. 119.
B. 
Authority.
(1) 
The provisions of this chapter are pursuant to the Natural Resources Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, § 8-1801 et seq. These provisions are adopted under the authority of the Dorchester County Code and shall apply to all agricultural activities occurring in the unincorporated portion of Dorchester County within the critical area.
(2) 
The application of this chapter and the provisions expressed herein shall be the minimum agricultural management requirements and shall not be deemed a limitation or repeal of any other powers granted by state statute. The Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office shall be responsible for the coordination and enforcement of the provisions of this chapter.

§ 62-3 Definitions.

The following definitions describe the meanings of the terms used in this chapter:
AGRICULTURAL USE
Land devoted to the practice of agriculture.
AGRICULTURE
All methods of production and management of livestock, crops, vegetation and soil. This includes, but is not limited to, the related activities of tillage, fertilization, pest control, harvesting, on-farm processing and marketing. It also includes, but is not limited to, the activities of feeding, housing and maintaining of animals such as cattle, dairy cows, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, wildlife and poultry and handling their by-products.
APPLICANT
Any person who executes the necessary forms to procure official approval of an activity.
BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
Accepted agricultural practices designed to optimize production, control excessive erosion, improve or maintain water quality and protect valuable plant and wildlife habitat.
CLEARING
The complete removal of trees and brush in preparation for uses other than forestry.
COVER CROP
The establishment of a vegetative cover to protect soils from erosion and to restrict pollutants from entering waterways. "Cover crops" can be dense, planted crops of grasses or legumes or crop residues, such as corn, wheat or soybean stubble, which maximize infiltration and prevent runoff from reaching erosive velocities.
CRITICAL AREA
All waters of and lands under the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to the head of tide, all state and private tidal wetlands, and all land and water areas within one thousand (1,000) feet of the landward boundary of heads of tides and state or private tidal wetlands, as modified pursuant to Natural Resources Article, § 8-1807.
EXEMPTIONS
Those agricultural activities that are not subject to the management requirements contained in this chapter.
GRADING
Any act of earth disturbance by which soil is stripped, stockpiled, excavated, scarified or filled, or any combination thereof.
HABITAT PROTECTION AREA
A site or zone of special significance that provides a living environment for valuable plant or animal species. "Habitat protection areas" include the tidewater buffer, nontidal wetlands, habitat for species of concern, plant and wildlife habitat and anadromous fish propagation waters.
NONTIDAL WETLANDS
Land areas that have a predominance of hydric (wet) soils, are usually inundated or saturated by surface water or groundwater and that normally support a prevalence of hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation. Nontidal wetlands do not include tidal wetlands, cropland or areas dominated by existing gravel or borrow pits, farm ponds and other man-made bodies of water, the purpose of which is to impound water for water supply, recreation, agriculture or waterfowl habitat purposes. (A more precise definition of "nontidal wetlands" can be found in the Dorchester County Critical Area Protection Program, Volume 1, Chapter 3, reference to which is hereby being made and the same is incorporated herein by reference.)
PERSON
The federal government the state, any county, municipal corporation or other political subdivision of the state or any of their units or an individual, receiver, trustee, guardian, executor, administrator, fiduciary or representative of any kind or any partnership, firm, association, public or private corporation or any of their affiliates or any other entity.
SOIL CONSERVATION AND WATER QUALITY PLAN
A land use and management plan for a farm that indicates applicable best management practices for the farm operation, alternative conservation measures and a schedule for applying those practices.
TIDEWATER BUFFER
A protective vegetated area established landward from the mean high-water line of tidal waters, tributary streams and tidal wetlands. The width of the buffer is a minimum of one hundred (100) feet and will be expanded beyond one hundred (100) feet to include contiguous, sensitive areas of nontidal wetlands, soils with high erosion potential and certain hydric soils. (A more precise definition of "tidewater buffer" can be found in the Dorchester County Critical Area Protection Program, Volume 1, Chapter 5, reference to which is hereby being made and the same is incorporated herein by reference.)
WETLAND MITIGATION PLAN
A detailed plan, supplementary to the soil conservation and water quality plan, that shows how adverse effects on nontidal wetlands resulting from the creation of agricultural lands will be addressed.

§ 62-4 Applicability; variances.

A. 
Scope.
(1) 
No person may conduct agricultural operations in the critical area without implementing appropriate natural resource protection measures in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, except as provided within this section.
(2) 
A soil conservation and water quality plan must be submitted to and approved by the Dorchester Soil Conservation District. Alteration of nontidal wetlands to create agricultural lands also requires an approved wetland mitigation plan.
B. 
Exemptions. The following agricultural activities are exempt from the provisions of this chapter:
(1) 
Agricultural operations located outside of the critical area.
(2) 
Any agricultural activities and related earthwork that are subject exclusively to state approval and enforcement under state laws and regulations.
C. 
Variances.
(1) 
The Dorchester Soil Conservation District may grant a written variance from the requirements of this chapter if exceptional circumstances exist such that strict adherence to the provisions herein will result in unnecessary hardship and not fulfill the intent of this chapter. The following conditions apply:
(a) 
Findings must be made which demonstrate that special conditions or circumstances exist which are peculiar to the land or structure involved and that literal enforcement of the provisions of the Critical Area Protection Program would result in unwarranted hardship.
(b) 
A literal interpretation of the Critical Area Protection Program and related ordinances will deprive the applicant of rights commonly enjoyed by other properties in similar parts of the critical area.
(c) 
The granting of a variance will not confer upon an applicant any special privilege that would be denied to other land or structures within the critical area.
(d) 
The variance request is not based upon conditions or circumstances which are the result of actions by the applicant, nor does the request arise from any condition relating to land or building use, either permitted or nonconforming, on any neighboring property.
(e) 
The granting of a variance will not adversely affect water quality or adversely impact fish, wildlife or plant habitat within the critical area, and will be in harmony with the general spirit and intent of the Critical Area Law.[1]
[1]
Editor's Note: See the Natural Resources Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, § 8-1801 et seq.
(2) 
The applicant shall submit a written request for a variance to the Dorchester Soil Conservation District. The request shall state the specific variance sought and reasons for requesting the variance. The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission shall receive a copy of the application for any variance that relates to the critical area at least fifteen (15) days prior to any hearing on such matter and shall receive a copy of the finding.
(3) 
Variance decisions may be appealed to the Dorchester County Board of Zoning Appeals, and the decisions of that body may be appealed to the Circuit Court in accordance with the Maryland Rules of Procedure. Appeals may be taken by any person, firm, corporation or governmental agency. In addition, the Chairman of the Critical Area Commission may appeal an action or decision, even if the Chairman was not a party to or is not specifically aggrieved by the action or decision.

§ 62-5 General regulations.

A. 
Critical area.
(1) 
Agriculture in the critical area shall be managed to minimize pollution, and agricultural lands shall be maintained in agricultural use where appropriate. Best management practices shall be implemented to protect water quality and conserve natural habitat.
(2) 
New agricultural land shall not be created on steep slopes, highly erodible soils or nontidal wetlands in the critical area, unless mitigation is provided.
B. 
Habitat protection areas.
(1) 
Existing agricultural activities are permitted in the tidewater buffer, provided that a filter strip adjoining water areas or comparable water quality and habitat protection measures are established. The buffer does not apply to agricultural drainage ditches if the adjacent land is protected by appropriate best management practices.
(2) 
Livestock grazing and other farming activities shall not disturb tidal shorelines, stream banks or habitat protection areas within the tidewater buffer. No feeding or watering of livestock shall be permitted within fifty (50) feet of tidal waters, tributary streams and tidal wetlands.
(3) 
New farmland shall not be created in the tidewater buffer in existing natural vegetation must be cleared. Nontidal wetlands shall not be diked, drained or filled to create new farmland unless satisfactory mitigation is accomplished.
(4) 
Where agricultural use of lands within the tidewater buffer ceases and the lands are proposed to be converted to other uses, management measures shall be undertaken to provide forest vegetation, where applicable, that ensures the intended water quality and habitat protection functions of the buffer.

§ 62-6 Soil conservation and water quality plans.

A. 
Plan requirements.
(1) 
An approved soil conservation and water quality plan is required by May 13, 1991, for all farms with lands in the critical area. The plan must meet the requirements of the Dorchester Soil Conservation District, the Dorchester County Critical Area Protection Program and this chapter.
(2) 
Applicants shall select and implement a program of best management practices that optimizes production, minimizes adverse impacts to water quality, conserves fish, wildlife and plant habitat and integrates best with farming operations. The best management practices shall include the implementation of a manure management program, where appropriate. These programs shall be an integral part of the soil conservation and water quality plan.
(3) 
Persons must apply for a current soil conservation and water quality plan by May 13, 1991. Plans developed prior to May 13, 1986, must be reviewed by the Dorchester Soil Conservation District to determine whether they conform to the critical area criteria, and must be updated if necessary.
B. 
Content of plans.
(1) 
The Dorcester Soil Conservation District shall determine the minimum requirements for a soil conservation and water quality plan, based upon accepted technical standards. Plans will be tailored to the resource use and management needs of each individual farm.
(2) 
The soil conservation and water quality plan shall contain information and drawings sufficient to describe how soils will be managed and water quality protected. When agricultural activities will affect a habitat protection area, the plan shall contain measures to protect or conserve such resources.
(3) 
The soil conservation and water quality plan and the associated program of best management practices shall be prepared or updated with the assistance of a trained soil conservation planner or technician.
C. 
Review and approval of plans.
(1) 
The applicant shall submit the new or updated soil conservation and water quality plan and any supporting documentation to the Dorchester Soil Conservation District for review and approval. The soil conservation and water quality plan must be signed by the applicant, certifying adoption of the plan, prior to approval by the Soil Conservation District.
(2) 
The Dorchester Soil Conservation District shall notify the applicant of approval or reasons for the disapproval or modification, within thirty (30) days after submission of the completed soil conservation and water quality plan. If a decision is not made within thirty (30) days, the Soil Conservation District shall inform the applicant of the status of the review process and the anticipated completion date. The plan shall not be considered approved without the inclusion of the signature and date of signature of the Soil Conservation District on the plan.
(3) 
Approved soil conservation and water quality plans shall remain valid for ten (10) years from the date of approval, unless renewed by the Dorchester Soil Conservation District.
D. 
Plan revisions. Approved soil conservation and water quality plans may be revised by the applicant, with the approval of the Dorchester Soil Conservation District. Revisions may be initiated by the applicant or required by the Soil Conservation District, due to significant changes in farming operations. The Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office may suggest revisions if an inspection reveals significant changes in land use or management.
E. 
Temporary measures.
(1) 
Until such time as a new or updated soil conservation and water quality plan is approved and in place, existing farming operations in the critical area may continue, provided that a twenty-five-foot-wide filter strip landward from tidal waters, tributary streams and tidal wetlands shall be established as a minimum best management practice. In the case of slopes greater than six percent (6%), the filter strip shall be expanded by a distance of four (4) feet for every one percent (1%) of slope.
(2) 
The filter strip shall be composed of either trees with a dense ground cover or a thick sod. Noxious weeds must be controlled by authorized means.
(3) 
The filter strip shall be managed so as to provide water quality benefits and habitat protection consistent with the intent of the critical area criteria Landowners should consult with the Dorchester Soil Conservation District to determine technical requirements for the filter strip.
(4) 
The filter strip shall be maintained until such time as the landowner is implementing an approved soil conservation and water quality plan.
(5) 
These temporary measures also shall apply, and farming may continue, if the Dorchester Soil Conservation District is unable to satisfy the soil conservation and water quality plan requirement because of manpower limitations or other similar reasons, although the farmer has signed up as a conservation district cooperator with the Soil Conservation District.

§ 62-7 Wetland mitigation plans.

A. 
Plan requirements. A person may not dike, drain or fill nontidal wetlands to create new agricultural lands without an approved wetland mitigation plan. The plan must meet the requirements of the Dorchester Soil Conservation District, the Dorchester County Critical Area Protection Program and this chapter.
B. 
Content of plans.
(1) 
The wetland mitigation plan shall contain information and drawings sufficient to evaluate the environmental characteristics of the affected areas, the potential impacts of the proposed alterations on water resources and the effectiveness and acceptability of compensatory measures. The plan shall describe how nontidal wetlands will be managed or replaced.
(2) 
The wetland mitigation plan shall specify mitigation measures that will provide water quality benefits and plant and wildlife habitat equivalent to the wetland destroyed or altered. Mitigation shall be accomplished on the site or near the affected wetland.
(3) 
The wetland mitigation plan shall be prepared by the person proposing to conduct agricultural operations, in consultation with the Dorchester Soil Conservation District.
C. 
Review and approval of plans.
(1) 
The applicant shall submit the wetlands mitigation plan to the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office for initial review. The Planning and Zoning Office shall forward the plan, together with any comments, to the Dorchester Soil Conservation District for approval.
(2) 
The wetland mitigation plan shall be reviewed by the Dorchester Soil Conservation District, which shall solicit comments from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and other appropriate agencies. In approving the plan, the Soil Conservation District shall consider all agency comments and may impose such conditions as deemed necessary.
(3) 
The approved wetland mitigation plan shall be fully implemented by the applicant in conjunction with any farming or other agricultural activities on the site.
D. 
Plan revisions. Wetland mitigation plan revisions may be requested by the applicant or by the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office. All revisions must be approved by the Dorchester Soil Conservation District.

§ 62-8 Inspection.

A. 
Inspection frequency and reports.
(1) 
Active agricultural operations in the critical area shall be inspected by the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office as necessary to ensure compliance with the approved soil conservation and water quality plan, wetland mitigation plan and this chapter.
(2) 
The Dorchester Soil Conservation District, in conjunction with the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office, shall develop guidelines for inspection. Inspectors shall prepare written reports after every inspection.
B. 
Right of entry.
(1) 
The Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office personnel shall have the right to enter property periodically to inspect for compliance with this chapter. Inspections shall be conducted in a manner which will prevent damage to crops, fields, roadways or other property of the applicant.
(2) 
Prior to inspection, the inspector shall contact the applicant to establish an acceptable time period for the inspection. This procedure will reduce the risk of property damage or exposure to health hazards.
C. 
Complaints The Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office shall receive complaints and initiate enforcement procedures when violations are confirmed. Any complaint received shall be acted upon within seven (7) days, and the complainant shall be notified of any action or proposed action within ten (10) days of receipt of the complaint.
D. 
Revisions to approved plans.
(1) 
When inspection of the site indicates significant changes in land use or management, the applicant shall submit a request for plan review to the Dorchester Soil Conservation District. If plan revisions are needed, the applicant shall submit a revised plan to the Soil Conservation District for approval.
(2) 
Minor inconsistencies with the soil conservation and water quality plan, as noted by the inspector, may be corrected by the applicant. The applicant may contact the Dorchester Soil Conservation District for assistance.

§ 62-9 Enforcement.

A. 
When an inspection reveals suspected violations to this chapter, the applicant will be notified in writing and referred to the Dorchester Soil Conservation District for technical assistance. The Soil Conservation District shall determine appropriate best management practices or planning requirements to correct the violation and shall notify the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office within thirty (30) days of the inspection. The new or revised soil conservation and water quality plan shall include a schedule for implementing the best management practices.
B. 
If the applicant fails to comply within thirty (30) days of the inspection order or fails to implement required best management practices within the scheduled time frame, the inspector shall issue a written notice of violation to the applicant. The applicant shall comply with this chapter or shall obtain a revised schedule for implementation of best management practices from the Dorchester Soil Conservation District within fifteen (15) working days of the date of the violation notice.
C. 
A follow-up inspection shall be conducted to determine compliance with the violation notice. If corrective measures have not been taken as scheduled, the inspector shall issue an order to comply to the applicant. The order shall stipulate a time period for compliance of not less than thirty (30) days, or more than ninety (90) days, from the date of the order.
D. 
If the applicant fails to comply with the inspection order, the Dorchester County Planning and Zoning Office shall take legal action on the violation.
E. 
If a person is conducting agricultural operations without an approved soil conservation and water quality plan or wetland mitigation plan and has not applied for assistance in developing these plans, that person shall be considered in violation of this chapter.

§ 62-10 Violations and penalties.

A. 
Any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof in a court of competent jurisdiction, shall be subject to a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.).
B. 
The County Commissioners of Dorchester County may institute injunctive, mandamus or other appropriate action or proceedings at law or equity for the enforcement of this chapter, or to correct violations of this chapter, and any court of competent jurisdiction shall have the right to issue restraining orders (temporary or permanent), injunctions, mandamus or other appropriate forms of remedy or relief.

§ 62-11 Appeals.

A. 
Any person aggrieved by the action of any official charged with the enforcement of this chapter, as the result of the issuance of a written notice of violation or an alleged failure to properly enforce this chapter in regard to a specific application, shall have the right to appeal the action to a Board of Zoning Appeals.
B. 
The appeal shall be filed in writing within thirty (30) days of the date of official transmittal of the final decision or determination to the applicant and shall clearly state the grounds on which the appeal is based.
C. 
Any person aggrieved by the final action of the Board of Zoning Appeals may further appeal the action within thirty (30) days of said action to the Circuit Court for Dorchester County in accordance with Chapter 1100, Subtitle B, Administrative Agencies - Appeal From, of the Maryland Rules of Procedure.

§ 62-12 Effective date.

Be it further enacted and ordained by the Dorchester County Commissioners that this chapter shall take effect on the second day of September, 1988.