County Renews Rezoning Debate

SNOW HILL- Another work session is in store after the second Worcester County Commissioner session on the draft rezoning map changes, during which the commissioners considered estate zoning and commercial land questions, but made no decisions.

Discussion Tuesday began with the controversial South Point area estate zoning. The issue in South Point was the proposed elimination of estate zoning in favor of neighborhood residential based on how the zoning districts were platted when zoning began in the 1960s. Many residents, however, did not want such a change, and wanted to retain the estate zoning.

Estate zoning, under the Comprehensive Plan approved in 2006, is meant to fade out, Commissioner Bobby Cowger noted. That was the idea, said Development Review and Permitting director Ed Tudor. He added, “Who knows what the suggestion will be next go round?”

Commissioner Virgil Shockley agreed estate zoning is not part of the long-term plan in the county.

“There’s no more E-l being created,” he said.

Commission president Louise Gulyas suggested leaving it alone and just not creating any new estate zoned land.

“We’re not having anymore,” she said. “To me, that’s fading it out,”

Unless the commissioners want to take a different action, the public comments indicate that South Point estate zoning should remain in place, said Tudor. 

Cowger questioned whether golf courses would be zoned estate, saying he thought they did not want to stay that way.

“The golf courses wanted to be changed to an R-1,” Cowger said.

Citizens are afraid that golf courses will turn into residential development, Tudor said. Golf courses could still develop into residential communities under estate zoning, but would have less density, he pointed out. Golf course owners could also ask for their property to be rezoned for other purposes, Gulyas said.

A large commercially zoned property at the northeast corner of the Route 90 and Route 589 intersection, proposed under the draft rezoning to become residential, occasioned some controversy. The planning commission feels the parcel should be zoned neighborhood commercial, but staff disagrees.

Staff supports a residential zoning for that piece of land, despite owner Palmer Gillis’ plans for medical offices, because a residential development is more likely to connect through Ocean Pines, instead of leaving Route 589 as the sole access point.

“It’s right across the street from a bank and a convenience store and an Atlantic General Hospital medical center, and the traffic is horrendous,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Shockley agreed, saying, “That’s going to be a nightmare. You talk about creating disaster on a highway. That’s the way to do it.”

The Comprehensive Plan stands against any drastic changes to properties on Route 589 until the improvement plans for the road are known, Boggs said. There is also an overabundance of commercial space and land in that area, she added. That was a big part of the staff’s thought process, said Tudor. Boggs hastened to say that she has nothing against the developer there.

“I just think it’s the wrong time and wrong place…we have to plan for the future,” she said.

Gulyas said the property owner thinks he can get access to his planned commercial buildings through Ocean Pines.

“I remember some wishful thinking along those lines,” said Boggs.

State Highway officials said a safe access point for the property on Route 589 is possible, Gulyas said. Aside from the access issue, the 22-acre property does not have access to public sewer or water. Excess capacity at the Ocean Pines wastewater plant has been committed elsewhere.

Changing the zoning to residential would downzone and devalue that property, said Cowger.

“That’s not right. You can’t do that,” he said.

Gulyas felt that any consensus must include input from Commissioner Linda Busick, who represents that district. Busick was absent from Tuesday’s meeting for a family emergency.

Questions also arose among the commissioners over the zoning of land across from Ocean Downs racetrack. Some who own land on the other side of Route 589, facing the track, would like to commercially develop that land to take advantage of slot machine traffic. Route 589 already has an abundance of commercial zoning, Tudor said, some of which is undeveloped or unused.

“Who’s going to buy a residential property across the street from a racetrack with slots, and the traffic?” Cowger said.

Commercial zoning in the area has long been concentrated on Route 50, Gulyas said. She fears commercial land across from the racetrack could have greater consequences. “Regardless of what’s happening in Annapolis, somebody’s going to want to put up a hotel,” she said. “It’s not to be in competition with Ocean City. That’s a fear.”