Critical Planning In A Critical Area


Whether planning a large addition, building a pool, adding a garage, installing a shed or outbuilding, creating sidewalks or patios, or doing smaller projects – tree removal, brush cleanups or rerouting gutters and French drains – an amount of planning can be critical to reach the finish line on time.

A piece of that preparation puzzle is, obviously, what you want to build, but just as important, where? We have all seen and heard the commercials, “Call before you dig” from Miss Utility and the 311 phone services, but there can be more to it than just electric lines, plumbing and gas lines. Does your property/project exist within a Critical Area?

What is a Critical Area?

According to the Anne Arundel County Department of Planning and Zoning, Critical Area is located 1,000 feet landward from mean high tide or the edge of tidal wetlands, as designated on the state tidal wetland maps, and all waters of and lands under the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Seems like most of Anne Arundel County falls within this area! What can this mean for your project?

The following activities must have approval through the forestry section outlined by the Anne Arundel County Department of Inspections and Permits:

  • Clearing or grading, including cutting or pruning of existing vegetation (except for routine grass cutting and maintenance of existing garden and landscaped areas)

  • Disturbance of steep slopes

  • Construction, alteration or relocation of a structure or lot coverage

  • Installation of stormwater management system

In short, the intent of the Critical Area stipulations is to preserve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the wildlife habitat along the shoreline. Water runoff and retention are other key factors. For every square foot of impervious material, the rainwater and groundwater are then displaced from their normal path, as water finds a path of least resistance.

In a small yard, this may mean the water that is now running down the new shed roof creates a gully in your yard to eventually create erosion.

Large scale, to recall the floods of downtown Ellicott City, those were caused by overdevelopment uphill and in surrounding areas. Water finds a way, overflowing the river, flooding downtown.

Depending on the project, navigating this process can be easier than it seems. The forestry section of Inspections and Permits for Anne Arundel County may advise to shift, downsize or move your project in tandem with planting x number of native trees, bushes or shrubs to help mitigate and soak up the water retention/runoff issues.

In many instances, there is an option to pay a fee so that the forestry section may take your money to use elsewhere to mitigate issues throughout local Critical Areas.

It can seem difficult enough to initiate and execute a project without thinking of all the outside checks and balances.

To ask for approval just to put down a flagstone paver patio or cut down some brush on your steep sloped backyard, at face value, does seem like overkill. On the other side, having practices and commissions in place to keep Anne Arundel County a beautiful, safe, clean environment for people, animals and vegetation is worth celebrating and encouraging.

For more information, visit the Anne Arundel County website at or call the permit office at 410-222-7790.

50 East Remodeling’s team of professionals are experienced in interior and exterior home remodeling projects and can work on everything from new builds to historical homes. Learn more about its services at  or by calling 410-500-2266.


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