Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Program

Bush River 10-20-15
Harford County’s Chesapeake Bay Critical Area (CBCA) Management Program is a local program required by state law which regulates construction and other land use activities on lands near tidal waters. The program is managed by Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning, and is overseen by the State Critical Area Commission.

The CBCA regulations were designed to protect and conserve wildlife habitat and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, while permitting controlled development. These regulations direct development away from sensitive habitats, require a buffer between new development and tidal waters, and require the use of stormwater management to treat rainfall and clean up streams and rivers, and ultimately the bay. The CBCA Program works on the principal that man's activity on land has impacts on our natural areas and that we need to take steps to minimize the results of our actions. By doing so, the health of our bay will improve and may remain productive for future generations.

Area Included
The CBCA begins with the tidal waters and tidal wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and associated tributaries. From these tidal areas, the Critical Area includes all areas 1,000 feet landward of these waters and wetlands. The CBCA may also include specific parks, floodplains, and wetland areas beyond the 1,000 feet from tidal waters and wetlands. Most of the shoreline areas of the Susquehanna River, the Bay, Swan Creek, Bush River and Gunpowder River are regulated by the Critical Area Program.
  1. Development Criteria

    The Critical Area is divided into 3 land use management areas based on development conditions existing prior to December 1, 1985. These categories are: IDA - Intensely Developed Areas, LDA - Limited Development Areas, and RCA - Resource Conservation Areas.

  2. Forest & Tree Clearing

    A CBCA goal is to maintain forest coverage in all land use designations. Forest that is removed for development in the CBCA must be replaced, or a fee-in-lieu of $0.40 per square foot must be paid so that trees may be planted elsewhere in the CBCA.

  3. Grandfathering

    Grandfathering provisions allow certain non-conforming uses to continue even though they may be inconsistent with the existing law. However, any expansion of that non-conformity may require a variance.

  4. Habitat Protection & Buffer Exempt Areas

    Sensitive areas are protected in the CBCA and are called Habitat Protection Areas (HPA).

  5. Water Dependent Facilities

    Construction and repair of water dependent facilities is permitted in the Critical Area Buffer. A water dependent facility is a structure whose function depends on being on or near the water.

  6. Frequently Asked Questions