ACT Eyes Legal Route On County Rezoning

SNOW HILL – The Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) is saying it will take legal action if the Comprehensive Rezoning is not in place by the beginning of 2009, a process that’s still incomplete two years and three months after the new Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was approved in March 2006.

“Assateague Coastal Trust is committed to seeing the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan implemented by the first of the new year and we will carefully assess our legal options toward accomplishing this goal,” wrote Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips in a May 28 letter to the Worcester County Commissioners.

The Comprehensive Rezoning implements the vision of the Comprehensive Plan, which otherwise cannot be enforced.

Fifteen months after instructing Worcester County planning staff in February 2007 to develop the delayed Comprehensive Rezoning, the County Commissioners have yet to hear a progress report or see a draft.

In March, Commission President Virgil Shockley said after taking over from former Commission President Jim Purnell that he would pursue the Comprehensive Rezoning.

The commissioners will hear report on the rezoning from Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor at the June 17 or July 1 County Commissioners meeting, Shockley said this week.

“We did not get the [ACT] letter and put this on the agenda,” Shockley said. “It was already on the agenda before the letter was sent.”

Regardless, Phillips said it’s about time.

“It’s way overdue. It’s one excuse after another. It’s time. No more excuses,” said Phillips. “It has to be the day to day business of the county to get this implemented.”

According to Shockley, the commissioners have been “consumed” by the budget for the last two and a half months, but now that the budget has been approved, the Comprehensive Rezoning will become the county’s priority.

“The idea is to get Ed Tudor in front of us and find out where we are, find out what needs to be done, what kind of timeline they are looking at,” Shockley said. “The majority of the commissioners want to get this wrapped up by the end of the year or at the latest before we start the budget next year.”

“I think we can get a draft to look at by fall,” said Tudor. “We’re going to really start a stronger push on it as we begin to get caught up.”

Although construction related work is down significantly, other work has taken precedence over the Comprehensive Rezoning, with legislation to be tracked in the Maryland General Assembly taking up a lot of time, as well as sewer and water issues, Tudor said.

“The first excuse was they had to get the 2006 election out of the way. Then the excuse was the budget in 2007,” Phillips said.

“It’s just been a lot of things that needed to be cleared up,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who wants to see the rezoning completed as soon as possible. “We have to be very strong about what we want from the Planning Department and Planning Commission.”

The consensus is to have Tudor set aside one or two days a week solely for work on the Comprehensive Rezoning.

The commissioners also need to set a timeline, Shockley said.

Planning Commission, staff, and commissioners alike have said repeatedly over the last two years they would like to wait on all rezonings until the Comprehensive Rezoning is finished, but once a rezoning is requested, the case must be considered.

The only legal means to delay a rezoning request is through establishing a moratorium on rezoning until the Comprehensive Rezoning is complete, but that would only apply to new rezoning requests, not current applications.

A moratorium would be part of the discussion, Shockley said, though he would not commit to supporting such a move. “A lot depends on where stuff is,” he said.

Key questions in the new zoning code surround estate zoning, which the Comprehensive Plan eliminates, and making a distinction between true farmland and agricultural land used for business.

Over the last two years and three months, 1,284 acres of estate zoning, 346 lots, have been approved for development or put into the review process, according to ACT, which would not exist as such under the Comprehensive Rezoning.

“We should have had this done. We’re going to get it done. It will be done,” Shockley said. “This is the next thing on the radar screen. This will be what we will be concentrating on. We’re going to see it through.”

If the County Commissioners do not, ACT will hold their feet to the fire.

“We are committed to seeing this thing enacted by the first of the year. If it’s not, we are prepared to take it to the next level,” Phillips said.

The losers in this situation are the taxpayers who put so much effort into the Comprehensive Plan, according to ACT.

“It’s the citizens of the county. It’s the vision of what they want the county to look like,” Phillips said. “If it doesn’t get implemented then that whole vision goes down the drain.”