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The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Act

1. Background

2.  Commission Process

3.  Procedures for Compliance

4.  Applicable COMAR Citations

1.  Background

The Critical Area Act created a 28 member Commission to protect water quality and conserve plant and animal habitat, while accommodating growth.  The Commission has jurisdiction over land disturbance  and construction activity within 1000 feet of the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Coastal Bays, and their tidal tributaries.  Local governments in counties with coastal shoreline administer the Critical Area Program within their own boundaries, but the Commission exercises direct approval authority over:

  • State projects on State-owned lands·        
  • State or local agency actions resulting in major development on private or local lands
  • Projects on Federal lands

All transportation projects within the Critical Area must be approved by the Commission.

The Critical Area includes:

  • All waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Coastal Bays, and their tributary streams,
  • All lands under these waters, and
  • All lands within 1,000 feet of the landward edge of tidal waters or adjacent tidal wetlands, as mapped on the 1972 State Wetlands Maps or designated private tidal wetlands.

Counties shown in blue include shoreline in the Critical Area

Maryland map highlighting critical area counties


The specific regulations of the Critical Area Act are known as the Critical Area Criteria. The Criteria include regulations covering:

  • The Buffer –First 100 feet landward from the Mean High Water Line of tidal waters or from the edge of tidal wetlands and  tributary streams. 
  • Location of projects: Areas of Intense Development or Areas Not Intensely Developed
  • Water dependant facilities
  • Forest and woodland protection
  • Designated Habitat Protection Areas

The criteria specific to projects or activities on state-owned land are covered in COMAR 27.02.05:

2.  Commission Process

Projects are reviewed by Commission staff, who prepare a report summarizing the projects, its impacts, mitigation requirements, proposed mitigation measures and a recommendation.

The Commission meets on the first Wednesday of each month.  Project staff reports are reviewed in the morning by the Project Subcommittee and the agency has the opportunity to answer questions and offer addtional information.  
The subcommitte then refers the project tothe Commission in the afternoon for a vote.

The Commission has the ability to approve a project, disapprove it, request changes, or approve it with additional conditions.  There are three types of approvals:

  • Commission Approval – for individual projects that meet the Criteria
  • Conditional Approval- when a project does not meet the Criteria, but can be justified.
  • General Approval – for programs or classes of activities if modal agency has an agreement with the Commission

3.  Procedures for Compliance


For most projects the agency must consult with the Commission early in the planning process to determine any potential effects of the development in the Critical Area. 

  • Major Projects:              Final project planning, after selection of an alternate
  • All other projects:           Final design phase

Formal Submission of the project must be received by the Commission no later than one month prior to the scheduled Commission meeting. 


Formal submission may consist of some or all of the following:

  1. The Project Application Checklist and required documentation -The checklist  includes a description of the project, the project area designation (Intensely Developed or Not Intensely Developed),  impacts, status of other permits and approvals, and mitigation requirements.
  2. Stormwater Calculation Forms (For Areas of Intense Development).
  3. Conditional Approval Form (For projects that do not meet the Criteria)
  4. Planting Agreement Form
  5. General Approval Letter

Facts to Remember

  • The Commission process does not include waivers.  Waivers received from MDE for small projects do not apply to Commission requirements.
  • Projects in an IDA will require stormwater calculations
  • Projects not in an IDA must result in less than 15% impervious coverage
  • Projects on the Coastal Bays also have a requirement for afforestation.

4.  Applicable COMAR Citations

The Critical Area Act is defined in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)TITLE 27

 27.02 – Development in the Critical Area resulting from state and local agency programs

27.02.05 – State agency Actions Resulting in Development on State-owned lands

27.03 – Project applications,

Last Updated on 

Tue Nov 24, 2015