Minor Request Sparks Debate Among Commissioners

SNOW HILL – A minor rezoning sparked controversy among the County Commissioners this week whether to wait for the comprehensive rezoning, which could be completed by the end of the year, or go ahead with the normal rezoning process.

The property in question is in a peculiar position, being bisected into two different zoning classifications. The two-thirds of the parcel closest to Route 589 is designated commercial and the rear third agricultural.

Property owners Oak-Kwang Park and Soon-Ae Park have asked for the agricultural area to be rezoned to neighborhood business, like the rest of the property.

Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing the landowners, argued that the agricultural portion is not usable for agricultural purposes because setbacks would render the usable land too small.

While the agriculturally-zoned part of the parcel could be used for a septic system or stormwater infrastructure, it could not be used for parking or other support structures for the commercial area near the road.

Cropper said the Parks have no specific plans for the site yet.

“It’s a mistake to have properties arbitrarily bisected by a zoning line,” said Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of Development Review and Permitting.

Splitting a property’s zoning is against good planning principles, Wimbrow said.

“There’s no farming you can put back there. There’s nothing you can do there,” said Cropper. “It’s not good for farming, it’s not good for forestry.”

To get to the agricultural area, one would have to drive through the commercial area of the long narrow lot, Cropper said. That area also has no road frontage. The area bordering the road is already commercial, so it would not add more commercial frontage to the neighborhood.

A rezoning would let the Parks do a better project on the parcel, Cropper said.

“I’m wondering what the urgency is on this,” said County Commissioner Judy Boggs. “It just seems to me to be very premature.”

“There’s a mistake in the zoning. We’re here to correct it,” said Cropper.

“There may or may not be a mistake. I’m not sure I agree that there is,” said Boggs.

The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan says there should be no intensification of development in the Route 589 corridor until the road is improved, said Boggs.

“Delay would be more appropriate,” Boggs said.

“They would like to make use of the property,” Cropper said.

“Would it create a hardship to wait a couple of months?” Boggs said.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas agreed with Boggs.

“I’m concerned about the urgency you’re putting on this,” said Gulyas. “As you know, the Comprehensive Plan will probably be completed by January.”

The Parks, said Gulyas, should ask for the change to be made during the comprehensive rezoning hearings.

“I think that we should wait. I’m not in favor of any rezoning until the Comprehensive Plan is completed, mistake or no mistake,” said Gulyas.

If any of the County Commissioners owned property with a zoning mistake on it, they would want the mistake corrected, Cropper said.

“It’s not like we’re saying no. We’re simply asking them to wait, come to the public hearings,” Gulyas said.

The comprehensive rezoning maps should correct the mistake, Commissioner Bud Church said.

Cropper said he could understand if the County Commissioners had reservations about approving a major rezoning case before the comprehensive zoning overhaul, but that this property was just a “thumbnail.” He said he did not see any harm in rezoning it now.

The county zoning watchdog, the Worcester County Planning Commission, agreed that the split zoning was a mistake, Cropper said.

The commissioners do not always agree with the planning commission, said Boggs.

“There’s a time for everything. The time for this is when we do the whole rezoning,” said Boggs.

The comprehensive rezoning is a broad-brush approach, pointed out county attorney Sonny Bloxom, who sided with his fellow attorney.

“Today we’re talking solely about a parcel of property, one entire parcel of property bisected by an arbitrary zoning line,” said Bloxom. “It should be dealt with today and not put off until the comprehensive rezoning.”

Once a rezoning application is made, the county must make a decision either for or against the rezoning.

“I usually vote against rezonings. I’m definitely against this,” said Gulyas. “This gives me agita, [but] I will vote in favor of this.”

The commissioners voted to approve the rezoning of the agricultural piece of the Parks’ Route 589 property to neighborhood business, with Boggs and Commissioner Linda Busick dissenting.