Coastal Trust Seeks Workshops To Review County Rezoning

BERLIN – A local environmental organization is calling for workshops to be held on the three-year delayed comprehensive rezoning before elected officials hold a public hearing for citizen input.

The comprehensive rezoning is intended to complete the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in March of that year. The third anniversary of that approval is less than two months away.

The new zoning regulations would implement many of the provisions of the Comprehensive Plan, creating an enforcement mechanism for the widely praised growth document.

Staff told the commissioners this fall that the rezoning would be in their hands in January, but the new regulations are still in the hands of the Worcester County Planning Commission.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas, president of the commissioners, said she hoped to see the draft by the end of February. She said she had not been informed of any reason for the delay.

“No sense in rushing it. We haven’t rushed it yet,” Gulyas said.

With so much at stake, the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) is asking the commissioners to hold educational forums and workshops presenting the complex comprehensive rezoning ordinance and maps to the public before the commissioners hold public input sessions.

“Assateague Coastal Trust is asking the county commissioners to instruct planning staff to hold at least one instructional workshop in the north end and one in the south end to give the public the opportunity to ask questions,” said Assateague Coastkeeper and Executive Director Kathy Phillips. “That way there’ll be a more informed public when the county commissioners do schedule their public hearings.”

Otherwise, Phillips said public opinion on the rezoning might be based on rumor or hearsay.

“I thought that was a good idea. I want to bring that up to Mr. [County Administrator Gerry] Mason and see if we can make that happen, so everyone will be on the same page at the public hearing,” said Gulyas. “I think that’s a better format.”

If citizens see the maps and encounter the ordinance first at the public hearings, they will not have time to digest the information and formulate questions and comments, she said.    

Even if only one workshop was held, that would be better than just a public hearing, Gulyas felt.

The other commissioners might not sign off on that approach. No public discussion of the process has been held.

According to Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman, the commissioners followed a similar process for the Comprehensive Plan itself in 2005 and 2006 with informational meetings held before formal public hearings. There has been a lot of pressure to get the comprehensive rezoning done quickly, he pointed out.

The decision on the comprehensive plan meetings and hearings is up to the commissioners. By law, the commissioners are required only to hold a single public hearing.

The public was strongly involved in final changes to the Comprehensive Plan in 2006, with meetings and workshops seeing heavy turnout.

If the commissioners decide against public workshops, opting instead for just public hearings, ACT will take action.           

“We are considering our options in holding additional public information meetings,” Phillips said.