County Wants Public Educated On Land-Use Bill

SNOW HILL — With a vote on an important land use bill pending, the Worcester County Planning Commission will be conducting a series of public information sessions in the hopes educating residents and receiving feedback.

County Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor first approached the Planning Commission during its September meeting with information on Senate Bill 236. During the last meeting, after recapping the initial information, Tudor made a strong suggestion that the commission move forward with giving the County Commissioners a positive recommendation for adopting the bill’s tier initiatives. He acknowledged that the system was constraining but based his advice on the fact that Worcester would be one of only four counties in the state to meet the one dwelling unit per 20-acre population density level that allows for the Tier IV exception.

“So ramifications to us are completely different from other counties,” he said.

Tudor called the exception “precious” in that it would allow Worcester a huge amount of leeway that few others would have access to.

“In Worcester, I believe, you want to be in Tier IV,” he said.

Maryland Senate Bill 236 would divide all land in every county in the state into “tiers” that would determine how or if major subdivisions could be built.

There would be four tiers. Tiers II and III would allow major subdivisions to be built on septic systems in either a limited capacity or after a public hearing and approval of the Planning Commission, respectively.

Tiers I and IV would not allow any major subdivisions to be built on septic systems. However, a limited number of counties, including Worcester, would be able to take advantage of an exception that would do away with the restrictions on Tier IV, according to Tudor.

While the tier system has received a lot of negative attention from many counties who see it as overly restrictive, Tudor noted that it is not actually mandatory.

“You need to understand that you don’t need to map this,” he said.

However, if a county decides not to map their land around the tier system then no new major subdivisions will be allowed on septic, explained Tudor.

Not adopting the bill and mapping tiers in the county at this time would also run the risk of having the exception eliminated or rules changed, he added.

“I just don’t see where it does us any good not to map it … no one has a crystal ball,” Tudor told the commission.

Even with everything stacked in favor of forging ahead with a positive recommendation, the Planning Commission decided to maintain a steady pace and spend some time on public education before committing to anything.

“I really think that we need to have a public hearing,” suggested Commissioner Brooks Clayville.

There is a lack of understanding of what the tier system would mean for individual properties in the public at large, said Clayville, as well as knowledge of why a particular area is designated with a particular tier.

Additionally, Clayville felt that “a lot of counties are slowly waking up” to the consequences of the bill and that Worcester should be as forefront and transparent as possible moving forward. Tudor agreed, though he suggested conducting several “information sessions” at different locations throughout the county as opposed to just one public hearing in Snow Hill. After the sessions are completed, there would still be time to accept and discuss public comments, he said.

As of Thursday, the exact locations and dates of the sessions have not been chosen, though Tudor promised to make a public announcement in the near future.