Zoning Can Save Baltimore’s Dipping Pond Run

The Dipping Pond Run. Photo courtesy of www.SaveFallsRoad.org

Stewards of streams and rivers in highly developed areas like Baltimore inevitably spend more of their energy on restoration than on conservation. We often feel this dynamic at Blue Water Baltimore. Occasionally, though, a true conservation opportunity arises and recently one has: preserving Dipping Pond Run.

Dipping Pond Run is an intact stream system and home to self-reproducing populations of brown and native brook trout as well as a high-value tributary to the otherwise predominantly-urbanized Jones Falls watershed. For two decades now, watershed activists local to the Dipping Pond Run, a sub-watershed of the Jones Falls, have fought tooth and nail to limit water-quality and habitat impacts from illegal pollution and unwarranted development.

Author Tom Horton, in his book Bay Country, compared Dipping Pond Run to the better-known Herring Run:

“One need not wonder what Herring Run might have been like when its pulse was steadier, its heartbeat more regular.  A model exists in the Green Spring Valley of Baltimore County, just north of the Beltway.  Dipping Pond Run, a rushing, rock-girt stream, has miraculously retained its watershed almost wholly in forest, with a ground cover of dense vines and deep leaf duff.”

The Dipping Pond already suffers from sediment pollution and stream bank erosion

Alas, Dipping Pond Run forms in large part on the property formerly occupied by the Chestnut Ridge Country Club, which filed for bankruptcy last year. A developer recently purchased the property and, as it is currently zoned, may have the ability to build as many as 115 homes along with associated roadways and other impervious surfaces on this environmentally critical 232-acre parcel.

This property covers a significant portion of the Dipping Pond Run’s upper watershed and includes numerous wetlands, headwaters streams, spring-heads, ponds, intact and mature native riparian buffers, and scant impervious surfaces limited to golf cart roadways and several small structures.

Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection & Sustainability has recommended down-zoning the Chestnut Ridge Country Club property to category RC-7 from RC-5, which would allow protection of forest, stream, wetlands, and water-quality and prevent injurious forest fragmentation. In fact, the RC-7 zoning designation was created specifically for this scenario – to ensure the protection of high-value forest and aquatic and rural community resources as properties change hands over time. Unfortunately, to date, the RC-7 zoning has not been implemented in the Dipping Pond Run watershed and so development continues to irreparably damage the rural stream valley.

Dipping Pond is high-value habitat for riparian and aquatic species

In late August, the Baltimore County Council will meet to vote on zoning changes pursuant to the County’s quadrennial Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.  At this meeting, they are expected to determine whether to maintain RC-5 zoning for Chestnut Ridge (potentially dooming the Dipping Pond Run) or to down-zone the property to RC-7.  This down-zoning could limit home construction to as few as 20 homes and effectively mitigate environmental impacts to the Dipping Pond Run.

Down-zoning the property could also prevent new sources of nutrient pollution and sediment from further contaminating the Jones Falls, Baltimore Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay.  Such protection would support the efforts of the greater watershed community towards implementation of the Chesapeake Bay’s pollution diet.

A small tributary stream to the Dipping Pond Run at Chestnut Ridge

The Dipping Pond Run and the Chestnut Ridge property both fall within County Council District 2, Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s district. At this time, over 200 watershed residents have written letters to Ms. Almond urging her to vote for down-zoning this property to RC-7, in order to support community health, safety, property values, and to preserve a unique and sensitive ecology for Baltimore County. Unfortunately, Ms. Almond has not committed to down-zoning the property.  Securing Councilwoman Almond’s support for protecting Dipping Pond Run through sensible down-zoning would be an important protection for clean water in Baltimore.

We believe that our greatest achievements as environmental advocates result when communities exercise self-determination and work together to oppose unnecessary ecological degradation.  When we join and oppose threats to our safety and public health, we truly participate in our democracy.

So we urge you to write a letter to Councilwoman Vicki Almond before August 21, 2012.  Follow the link for suggested language asking her to support down-zoning this parcel of land. 

Write also to your local Baltimore County Council representative and urge them to support down-zoning as well.  Remind them that changing the zoning from RC-5 to RC-7 will protect this unique stream. Whether you are a resident of County District 2, of the Dipping Pond Run watershed, of the Jones Falls watershed, of the Patapsco River Basin, or of the Chesapeake Bay you CAN make a difference on this issue.

To learn more about the Dipping Pond Run and what local citizens are doing to protect it, please visit http://savefallsroad.org/.

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