County Commissioners Talk Rezoning

SNOW HILL – Another step has been taken toward completing Worcester County’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan as the County Commissioners got their first look at revisions to the draft rezoning and subdivision code this week during a Tuesday afternoon work session with staff.

Staff and the Worcester County Planning Commission have been working on amending the draft codes since the June 2 public hearing, which attracted about 350 audience members and over 62 speakers.

The first item changed would require property owners to make a reasonable attempt to prove that land, which an owner wishes to take development rights from, to add to another piece of property would actually be able to support a septic system. Land which cannot support septic and which is not on public sewer is not considered to have building rights. The new language calls for the soils on the sending site to be reviewed by the county, but does not call for expensive perc tests.

Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, said they had tried to set this new provision up so people would not have to spend a lot of money to determine if a sending parcel had building rights.

Changes also clarify that parcels which lose their development rights this way can only be used for agricultural buildings, such as barns or chicken houses that do not need septic.

Also added was language to require that development’s impact on impaired water bodies be considered early in the development process, as well as the existence of sensitive areas.

“This is a triggering mechanism that requires heightened scrutiny,” said county attorney Sonny Bloxom.

Rural cluster subdivisions and consolidated development rights subdivisions would be exempt from on-parcel wastewater disposal under changes made since the public hearing, which would allow houses in those developments to send sewage to another property for septic disposal.

“Some folks have claimed we changed the whole thing up. We did not,” said Tudor. “It does not give them anything that wasn’t there before. It just takes away any conflict.”

This change, staff believes, would prevent stripping lots off along the road just because that’s where the soils can handle septic. The exemption would allow houses to be clustered off a rural road, while sending septic to a nearby undeveloped parcel, Tudor said.

A letter to the Worcester County Commissioners from the Assateague Coastal Trust objects to this new provision.

“This exemption was not in the draft copy of the Code that was provided to the public for public comment and therefore we did not comment on this during the open public comment period,” wrote Kathy Phillips, executive director of ACT.

The commissioners have refused to take further comments on the draft code since the public hearing was closed in June.

“Environmentally sensitive planning demands that new homes only be located in areas with soils suitable for on-site waste disposal.  While some flexibility may be appropriate in order to encourage clustering, unfettered ability to dispose of effluent off-site is poor policy and will inevitably lead to the siting of new residential development in environmentally unsuitable areas,” Phillips wrote.

Tudor said during the work session that there is no downside to the proposed exemption.

During this week’s discussion, Commissioner Virgil Shockley questioned the scant references to alternative energy in the draft code.

“We’re going to get these things…we need to have that. That needs to be in here somewhere,” Shockley said.

Tudor said he’d looked over 50 alternative energy ordinances to come up with the recommendations in the draft code.

“You got to have a starting point and this is the starting point I propose,” Tudor said.

“When issues come up we can address it then. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know what it’s going to evolve into,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

The draft code talks about alternative energy facilities, not specific technology, Tudor said. It does allow tall wind turbines in agricultural areas.

While there was only a single comment on the proposed commercial architectural guidelines, the commissioners were prompted by discussion of the minor changes in that document to weigh in on parking.

Shockley proposed that developers be allowed to put parking underneath raised buildings, which would reduce sprawl and save developers from having to buy more expensive land.

Commissioner Linda Busick said that the commissioners do not want four-story buildings in Worcester County.

The county cannot tell businessmen how to build, said Commission President Louise Gulyas. “We do want businesses here. We can’t rely on spreading out across the whole county building condominiums or town homes.”

The commissioners did not vote on the proposed changes Tuesday. Changes to the zoning maps will be discussed in a work session on Oct. 20.