Final Say On County Rezoning Up To Commissioners

SNOW HILL – South Point will retain estate zoning and the area around the headwaters of Herring Creek will be designated agriculture and resource protection in the draft rezoning, if the County Commissioners accept recommendations made by staff and endorsed by the Worcester County Planning Commission.

The estate zoning, designated E-1, will most likely stay throughout the South Point neighborhood at the request of several residents who testified against what they saw as upzoning of the area to residential in the draft comprehensive rezoning.

Estate zoning has been a long-running contentious issue in Worcester County, with opponents of the extra large residential lots saying they use up too much land, increase costs for services and are located mostly in ecologically sensitive areas along county waterways.

The County Commissioners decided last September to add no more estate zoning through the comprehensive rezoning, but to delay the elimination of that zone until the next comprehensive planning review process.

“A political decision was made,” said Planning Commission member Carolyn Cummins.

Under the draft rezoning, many areas of South Point were changed to a more intense residential use.

Residents, said Ed Tudor, Director of Development Review and Permitting, do not understand the reality on the ground, which includes numerous parcels already platted for more intense residential.

Some of the demand for the retention of the estate zoning possibly stems from confusion among the public who believed that changed zoning would only be proposed in areas designated for future growth, said Cummins. The county has to do a better job of explaining, she added.

“Don’t say we didn’t try to make it consistent with the comprehensive plan,” said Tudor.

Deputy Director of Development Review and Permitting Phylls Wimbrow said the public needs to keep in mind that estate zoning also allowed agricultural uses, such as hog or chicken farms, not just residences.

“I think people are just afraid there’s going to be a whole lot of development,” said Planning Commission member Jeanne Lynch.

Construction on those residential areas would be restricted by onsite septic requirements and the critical area, said Wimbrow.        

“We understand that, but there are a whole lot of people who don’t,” Lynch said.

An area including the headwaters of Herring Creek, in the vicinity of Holly Grove Road and Sinepuxent Road, slated for A-2, an agricultural commercial zone, was recommended by staff and the planning commission for a different designation, with forested non-tidal wetland areas west of Holly Grove Road, as a Resource Protection District.

The remainder of the A-2 zoning proposed for that area, under the recommendation of staff and the planning commission, would be put into A-1, pure agriculture, instead.

Water quality requirements should be referenced throughout the document, staff and commission members agreed.

Allowing a change from agriculture to commercial on property across from Stephen Decatur Middle School, as shown in the comprehensive plan, would be a mistake, said Lynch.

“I think that’s a bad place for commercial,” said Lynch.

“I think it’s controversial enough it ought to have to go through the rezoning process,” said Cummins.

No comprehensive commercial rezoning should be allowed on Route 589 until the road is dualized and can handle the traffic, staff suggested and the planning commission concurred.

Comments asking that conservation subdivision design be required do not need a change, said staff.

“It has been reported many times it’s voluntary and that’s not the case,” said Tudor.

Staff and the planning commission held firm in retaining the option of a sixth building lot allowed per parcel in A-1 if the landowner clusters the lots away from the road frontage, reducing the look of sprawl.

The ability to transfer subdivision rights onto one parcel in the A-2 and E-1 zones, when up to four contiguous parcels of land is owned by one person, also remained the same.

Tudor and Wimbrow ridiculed concerns over potential 20-lot subdivisions, reporting that they had researched the matter after the public hearing on the comprehensive rezoning on June 2 and found only four sets of contiguous parcels where 20 lots would be possible. One of those areas is the closed Berlin landfill owned by the county.

People might be worried about that regulation being used as a jumping off point to allow more building in the next rezoning in several years, said Cummins.

“They need to trust that neither the staff nor the planning commission intends that,” Wimbrow said.

Wimbrow, daughter and wife of farmers, added, “I’m about fed up with people expecting owners of agricultural land to provide open space for the rest of the county and not compensate them for it.”

Requiring “perc” tests on “sending” parcels, which are the parcels the development rights would be transferred from, is too expensive for the landowner and would discourage clustering because of that, staff said.

Some citizens wanted to make sure that development rights actually existed on the “sending” parcels. If the land does not “perc,” septic systems cannot be installed on that land, and development rights essentially do not exist. Speakers said without “perc” tests, landowners transferring development rights from one commonly-owned contiguous parcel to another could end up with more developed units than they are entitled to.

“The logic on that defies me,” said Wimbrow.

Transfer development rights, as suggested by several speakers at the public hearing, will not be part of the comprehensive rezoning, staff and planning commission agreed. “They don’t work in other areas,” said Cummins.

The protest against A-2 zoning proposed east of Berlin to Mary Road garnered no support at the work session.

Tudor said he did not see the alleged deleterious effects. Lynch said she thought the area should be designated A-1. A-2 has all the old commercial uses of A-1, plus the ability to develop two types of subdivisions, said Wimbrow.

Staff scoffed at comments criticizing the development of the draft comprehensive rezoning without input from citizens. The rezoning would never have gotten done that way, Tudor said.

Theoretically, that’s a good idea, if the public could be educated enough, said Planning Commission member Brooks Clayville.

“Laws are too complex and are too far reaching to be written by the inexperienced,” said Wimbrow.

Citizens commenting on the process seemed to be focusing on the concepts in the rezoning, not the legal aspects.

At times throughout the discussion on June 25, both Tudor and Wimbrow seemed upset over and disturbed by critical comments on the draft rezoning. Several times the staffers said the public did not understand what they were talking about.

Wimbrow singled out the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP), saying that MDP is not well versed in zoning and does not live in the real world.

Planning commission recommendations on changes to the draft rezoning must be approved by the County Commissioners, who are likely to consider the recommended changes sometime this summer.