The Critical Area Act, passed in 1984, was significant and far-reaching, and marked the first time that the State and local governments jointly addressed the impacts of land development on habitat and aquatic resources. The law identified the “Critical Area” as all land within 1,000 feet of the Mean High Water Line of tidal waters or the landward edge of tidal wetlands and all waters of and lands under the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The law created a statewide Critical Area Commission to oversee the development and implementation of local land use programs directed towards the Critical Area.
The Commission developed criteria that were used by local jurisdictions to develop individual Critical Area programs and amend local comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, and subdivision regulations. The programs that have subsequently been adopted by local governments are specific and comprehensive. They are designed to address the unique characteristics and needs of each county and municipality and together they represent a comprehensive land use strategy for preserving and protecting Maryland’s most important natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay.