A group of planners, engineers, environmentalists and others recently agreed upon a range of recommended code changes for Maryland’s Harford County aimed at promoting development practices that protect water quality.

The group of 32 stakeholders met over the past year as part of the first “Builders for the Bay” roundtable project, which is aimed at forging local consensus about regulatory barriers to environmentally sensitive residential and commercial site design in development codes.

Among the recommended changes are reducing home setback requirements to allow more compact subdivisions, and changes in regulations governing the minimum and maximum size of parking lots, which would reduce the amount of pavement and runoff.

Builders for the Bay is a 2-year-old partnership established by the Center for Watershed Protection, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and the National Association of Home Builders to promote sound development throughout the Bay watershed.

“Many communities are struggling with issues of where development should occur, but how we design the sites designated for growth is also critical in protecting our water resources,” said Anne Kitchell, a watershed planner with the Center for Watershed Protection.

“If every community in the Chesapeake Bay region were to do what Harford County has done, it would be a big step in minimizing the impact of future growth on the Bay,” she said.

The Harford County participants spent eight months assessing the area’s existing subdivision regulations and road codes to recommend changes that will help protect open space, reduce impervious cover and minimize the negative impact of stormwater runoff from new development.

The code changes recommended by the roundtable members are intended to give developers more flexibility in commercial and residential site design while adhering to overarching environmental principles. Inflexible ordinances that establish large setbacks and wider-than-needed subdivision road widths can sometimes contribute to sprawl and increase pavement—and runoff.

Developments using better site design principles can feature less impervious cover, conserve more natural areas and produce less stormwater runoff. In addition to being more environmentally sensitive, residential communities constructed with better site design have the potential to be more attractive, more livable and more valuable.

The recommendations would still have to be adopted by the county, although its Department Department of Planning and Zoning participated in the effort.

“There’s a potential for good changes in the not-too-distant future,” said Susan Davies, of the Home Builders Association of Maryland and a roundtable participant.

It was the first of 12 roundtables planned for the Bay watershed under the Builders for the Bay program, and will serve as a model for other communities that participate in the program.

The Harford County project was made possible with support from the Abell Foundation, the Cafritz Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

For information on Builders for the Bay or the Harford County Roundtable, or to learn about how a community may participate in the program, visit www.buildersforthebay.net, or contact the Center for Watershed Protection, 410-461-8323.