West OC EDU Sales Can Continue, County Votes

SNOW HILL – West Ocean City property owners may still buy and sell sewer and water rights, after the Worcester County Commissioners decided this week not to eliminate the practice.

The EDU market opened in 1997, when the county decided to allow the sale of water and sewer access in the West Ocean City service area, after that system was restricted to roughly one million gallons of effluent per day. Property owners with no plan to use their EDUs sold capacity access to those who wanted to build, often from interior to coastal lots.

The current commissioners unanimously asked county attorney Ed Hammond to look into terminating the sales in August.

“It’s really fulfilled its purpose,” said Hammond. “We had sewer capacity that was not being used.”

The consent order and agreements restricting West Ocean City sewer capacity are running out, he said, and a capacity increase will happen at some point.

“I think this is a difficult thing to do right now with the way real estate is going,” Commissioner Louise Gulyas said.

Although EDUs do not count in a property’s assessed value, many property owners in West Ocean City consider their unused EDUs a financial asset.

“It directly affects how much money the seller of that property is asking for the property and how much they’ll pay for it,” said land use attorney Mark Cropper, who has handled much of the EDU sales in the service area along with fellow attorney Hugh Cropper. 

The commissioners’ reason to consider terminating the sales was never made clear during the meeting and public hearing held Tuesday, despite repeated requests.

“Why is it so necessary to do that at this time?” questioned Jay Bergey. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to do this.”

“What’s broken? What are we trying to fix?” asked Guy Ayres, Ocean City’s attorney.

“I can’t sit here and tell you it’s something that’s causing such a terrible problem the sky’s going to fall,” Hammond said.          

Some property owners use the EDU sales as a revenue source, the sale of which allows them to build their own homes or projects, he said.

“When you take that away, you’re literally taking money out of their pocket,” Mark Cropper said.

EDUs are not a property right, Hammond said, and can in fact be reallocated annually.

Another concern, raised by a letter from Hugh Cropper, who could not attend, is businesses that would like to expand. Without the chance to buy EDUs, businesses like restaurants cannot add more seats.

Multi-EDU parcels where the owner would have built one home, while selling the other EDUs, would see more construction, Mark Cropper said, if that sewer access could not be sold.

Developer Jack Burbage cautioned the commissioners that some projects would not be built if the EDU transfers were ended, eliminating needed jobs. “There’s a trickle down effect,” he said.

Ocean City still owns EDU rights on the park and ride site in West Ocean City, and intends to sell them to fund the purchase of land to mitigate wetland disturbance at the property. If the commissioners passed the bill, the taxpayers of Ocean City would lose that money, Ayres said.

The commissioners spent no time deliberating before voting.

“I am persuaded. I’ve heard a lot of good reasons why we should not do something with the transfer of EDUs at this time,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

The commissioners unanimously voted to deny the legislation.

“The adverse effect of passing this legislation would be devastating to a number of people in West Ocean City,” said Commissioner Bud Church.