Opinions Mixed On County Rezoning

BERLIN – The draft rezoning code and maps released last month by Worcester County are getting mixed reviews from local environmentalists, who say that some changes are just right, but others need to be altered.

“It’s 50-50. It has retained a lot of A-1 and has retained the resource protection areas,” said Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips. “There’s isn’t any language in there about TDRs (transfer development rights). I don’t see language allowing us to meet our TMDLs (total maximum daily loads). Especially some of the upzoning that has occurred in the north end of the county troubles me.”

“I think it’s a good plan, certainly compared to Somerset or Wicomico County. I certainly think there are ways to improve it,” said Dave Wilson, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

Phillips praised the amount of land kept under agricultural zoning by the draft rezoning regulations.

On the other hand, the delay between approval of the new Worcester County Comprehensive Plan in March 2006 and now has allowed changes in the county under old, outdated zoning regulations, Phillips said. The changes are apparent when comparing maps from 2006 with the new maps.

“That was a little disheartening, just because of being able to see where we lost ground since the comprehensive plan because of the delayed reaction,” said Phillips.

The two agricultural zones, A-1 for pure farmland, and A-2 allowing rural appropriate commercial development, are new.

“I’m a little concerned for the health of the waters in the concentration of A-2 east of Berlin,” Phillips said, referring to area home to the headwaters of Ayres Creek, Trappe Creek and the impaired Herring Creek.

The new A-2 zone has some problems but is a better change than making agricultural land fully commercially zoned, she said.

“We’re giving a lot to the farming community,” said Wilson.

One benefit farmers could reap is a consolidated development rights option, allowing owners of contiguous parcels of land to transfer all subdivision rights to one parcel for cluster development.

Wilson’s concern is that many of those parcels probably would not be buildable because sanitary service could not be provided onsite, potentially allowing landowners more lots than their properties would actually provide.

The zoning around some areas, such as Route 611 and north of Route 50 might be too intense, he felt.

Certain areas should probably be under resource protection, Phillips said.

Some of the controversial estate zoning has been changed to plain residential, or A-2.

“It’s tough to get rid of it. People have rights,” Wilson said. “It’s maybe something not worth fighting over.”

 Wilson said the staff of the Development Review and Permitting Department did the best they could. “They also certainly know the political realities of give and take,” he said.

Prominent conservation proponent Carolyn Cummins, a member of the Worcester County Planning Commission, said she does not see great changes from the 1992 zoning code in the draft.

“It’s a good first attempt at meeting the goals of the comprehensive plan. It probably isn’t as much of an attempt as I’d like to possibly see but I’m only one voice on the commission,” Cummins said.

Some aspects of the draft code need further consideration, Cummins felt, such as the new growth areas. The county needs to work with the towns on sewer capacity to handle development and direct it to the right place. Otherwise, growth will occur in scattered five-unit rural subdivisions served by septic.

“I’m really serious about the importance I see in getting those mutual agreements with the town not only where their zoning is going to be, but how they’re going to develop,” Cummins said.

She also would also have liked to see transfer development rights included in the new regulations, and more attention to affordable housing.

“People put too much faith in the zoning code. It’s only one of the tools that implement the comprehensive plan,” said Cummins.

The comprehensive plan will be implemented much further by future plans, such as an improved water and sewer plan, a green infrastructure plan, and a new stormwater management law expected from the state this spring.

The most critical element, Cummins said, is a transportation plan, including upgrades to county roads, planning for connector roads around towns, and a way to handle increased traffic on Bishopville roads from development in Delaware. Walking and biking links are necessary, too.

“Traffic is going to become a large problem, especially once dualization is finished on 113 and once more commercial gets going along Rt. 50,” said Cummins. “How are we going to get the local people around?”