SNOW HILL – Elected officials pushed for another delay in considering the draft comprehensive rezoning and revamped subdivision regulations on Tuesday, citing the need to notify out-of-county property owners of potential changes.
If the hearings and approval had been put off, the three-year delay in the new rezoning and subdivision regulations would have stretched to at least three and a half years.
The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was approved in March 2006, but the rezoning and subdivision rule updates were repeatedly delayed until June 2008, when the commissioners gave staff a deadline.
Elected officials have cited the 2006 election as one reason for the delay. Other work took precedence in later years, despite commissioner instructions to staff to proceed.
The new zoning and subdivision regulations were introduced as draft legislation this week.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Bud Church expressed concern that non-resident property owners might not get the chance to weigh in on potential zoning changes to their property, since they are unlikely to know about the proposed changes or public hearings.
“I think those people need to be notified their property may see a zoning change,” Church said.
The county would have to identify those non-resident property owners and notify all of them, not simply those with possible zoning changes.
“The law as written does not require it,” said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting.
Church suggested identifying out-of-county property owners by tax account.
County attorney Sonny Bloxom said that the county would have to notify all non-resident landowners, not just those with possible changes to their land’s zoning.
All Worcester properties are under consideration for a zoning change through the draft hearing process, said Development Review and Permitting Deputy Director Phyllis Wimbrow. That would be thousands of property owners, she said.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley estimated that the cost to mail letters to all non-resident county property owners could be as much as $150,000.
Postage is going up next month, County Commission President Louise Gulyas pointed out.
“We can’t afford to do that,” Gulyas said.
Drafts of the new regulations and information on hearings and workshops are posted online, and notice has been put out to local homeowners associations for newsletter inclusion.
The other option, Shockley said, would be to put off the vote scheduled for June 2 and put the information in the county tax bills, which will not be sent until July 1.
People do not come to public hearings held in the summer, Gulyas said.
“People don’t always read letters,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said.
Church responded, “It’s not our responsibility to make them read it. It’s our responsibility to give them the opportunity to read it.”
If the notice were sent out with the tax bill, the public hearing would have to be delayed until August or September.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Commissioner Jim Purnell.
Boggs differed with this assessment, saying the commissioners had asked staff to make the draft rezoning a priority.
Putting the notice in the tax bills would save money, Purnell said.
The budget insert added to the tax bill mailing would have to be sacrificed in favor of the notice, said Treasurer Harold Higgins, because of logistics.
The county has 68,000 tax accounts, according to Higgins. With Berlin and Ocean Pines sharing a zip code, separating town tax accounts from county could be time consuming and difficult.
“Let’s do them all,” Purnell said.
Boggs said she would hate to make a decision without all the facts in front of the commissioners.
“It sounds to me it’s much more complex than it would appear,” Boggs said.
The schedule for public workshops and hearings has already been printed and distributed, Commissioner Bobby Cowger said.
Despite the opposition that arose during discussion, Purnell made a motion to send all property owners a notice in their tax bill that the draft comprehensive rezoning and subdivision regulations are under discussion and their properties could be affected.
The motion failed, with only Church and Purnell voting for it.
“It’s too expensive. Good idea, but it’s not going to fly,” said Gulyas.