County OKs Preliminary Plans For 126-Home Project

SNOW HILL – A new subdivision is a step closer to adding 126 homes to the Route 589 corridor after the Worcester County Planning Commission approved the Mapleton Farms plat lat week.

Members of the Worcester County Planning Commission questioned landowner Charles Nichols and project engineer John Salm closely over the use of individual septic systems and wells before supporting approval in a split vote.

Commission member Jeanne Lynch asked Salm why the subdivision was not planned to hook into public sewer and water. The separate individual systems are inconsistent with Worcester County’s comprehensive plan.

Public service is not planned for the property, at the north end of Route 589, in the Worcester County Water and Sewer Plan, Salm said.

“It’s a ‘no planned sewer service,’ it’s a ‘no planned water service’ area,” Salm said.

Project planners did not ask the County Commissioners to amend the water and sewer plan to call for public utility service to the site, Salm said.

“There’s no capacity,” pointed out Nichols’ land use attorney Mark Cropper.

There is no practical way to get public sewer for the subdivision, Salm said.

The property has never been identified as a sewer or water service area, confirmed John Ross, deputy director of Worcester County Public Works.

“It’s an undeveloped property so it was never part of the Greater Ocean Pines Sewer Service Area,” said Ross.

The Greater Ocean Pines Sewer Service Area was never meant for new development, intended rather to bring failing and older septic systems into the public sewer network from Ocean Pines, said Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman.

“Certainly for planning purposes this area should be served by public water and sewer,” Coyman said.

Plans to do so probably would have been made but for concerns over traffic and development issues along Route 589, he said.

A small package wastewater plant was not feasible, according to project planners.

“It would not have worked from a site standpoint with setbacks,” Salm said.

Estate zoning has specific regulations on setbacks.

“I think our Comprehensive Plan actually discourages community systems this close to the other sewer systems. I think it would be difficult to get approval for a community system here,” said Planning Commission member Brooks Clayville.

Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins suggested a Residential Planned Community (RPC) approach, which would remove some of the estate zone constraints.

Salm said the estate zoned cluster subdivision has been planned for a couple of years.

“An RPC is a discretionary approval,” said Cropper.

The approach chosen by Nichols was selected because there were no discretionary approvals involved.

“I for one am not prepared to give any kind of approval to this, number one without a lot more study and number two without looking at central sewer a lot harder,” said Lynch.

“There’s no capacity, there’s no system, there’s no nothing,” Cropper said.

“It’s an important property,” said Lynch. “Along with other property in that area. I think it needs to be treated very carefully.”

Nichols said he was prepared to discuss the issues further.         

“We’re not unwilling to talk,” said Nichols.

Under Worcester County law, a developer that follows the planning code is entitled to a plat approval.

“That’s been the focus from the beginning. We’ve designed this per the laws that exist,” Cropper said.

Under the Comprehensive Plan, there did not seem to be a reason to deny plat approval, said Planning Commission member Jimmy Bunting.

County attorney Sonny Bloxom confirmed that the Planning Commission can not turn down the application for preliminary plat approval if the developer has followed the law.

“We certainly believe we’re entitled to preliminary plat approval but if you would give us that approval Mr. Nichols will sit down with Mr. Salm and myself and we will look at the RPC as an alternative,” Cropper said. “That is an expense and a devotion of time Mr. Nichols is willing to agree to.”

Cummins asked for a postponement. The Planning Commission only received the application Monday night, she said, and she has not had time to really study it.

“I was really hopeful I could come here today and get this part of this done,” said Nichols.

The materials were submitted late because project planners were not certain about submitting the application, a staffer said.

Lynch said it was not fair to the Planning Commission to expect an answer in a few days on a project planned for two years.

However, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 to approve the preliminary plat, with Cummins and Lynch voting against the motion.