New Life For Worcester Campground Proposal

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commission showed some tentative support for changes to campground enclosures when they voted unanimously to table the issue so that a re-draft of the proposal could be developed.
The original amendment called for the allowance of “soft plastic” porch enclosures at cooperative campgrounds. Currently, porches at the campgrounds can only be enclosed by insect screening. Both the county planning staff and Planning Commission have given the proposal an unfavorable recommendation, citing concerns over safety, intensity of use and permanency.
This isn’t the first amendment to appear before the commission seeking the allowance of alternative porch enclosures at cooperative campgrounds. Attorney Mark Cropper, who submitted the amendment on behalf of Bali Hi Cooperative Campground, acknowledged the history behind the subject, but asked that the commission judge the proposal based only on the evidence.
Cropper disagreed with planning commission’s argument that allowing soft plastic screens around porches would drastically impact the use.
“I don’t get that. I don’t get how allowing plastic, in addition to the insect screening, increases the intensity or permanency of the unit,” he said. “To me, permanency is that you could reside in these units year-round, 12 months, which is completely not allowed by our code. This doesn’t change that.”
There wouldn’t be a great change to the porch if soft plastic was added on top of the established insect screening, Cropper continued.
“It’s not hard, it’s not structural,” he said of the plastic.
Plastic panels on porches could lead to an increase in intensity, allowing the space to be used during times when the weather would typically prevent it if there was only insect screening in place. This was one of the points that Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, made.
“That is one of staff’s biggest concerns with these types of enclosures, that you basically set it up as additional living space,” he told the commission.
Whether or not that would happen, Cropper asserted that the owners of the units should be allowed to use them however they wish during the nine months of the year that they can legally be occupied. If the extra space means extra people to the degree that water and sewer services were affected, that would be Bali Hi’s problem, said Marlene Dranzo, who sets on the campground’s board of directors.
“I feel like I’m fighting for my life and I’m fighting for a piece of plastic, a piece of plastic that is permitted all over these United States and in the state of Maryland,” said Dranzo.
Fire safety was a lynchpin in the discussion. County Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon had previously expressed concerns about how the soft plastic panels might retain smoke in the event of a fire and complicate the existing dangers. In response, Cropper argued this week that the thin panels would melt during the fire, letting the smoke out or were fragile enough to easily tear if a family was attempting to exit or firefighters attempting to enter the porch.
“There’s nothing dangerous about this at all,” said Cropper.
If the county did move forward with the amendment, McMahon’s biggest questions would be about the maximum thickness of material allowed and that material’s melting point.
“If we’re enclosing a room, then I would worry about smoke development and how fast it develops and the temperature in which that room will fill prior to the melting of that,” he said.
McMahon had also previously suggested that smoke alarms should be in place for porches that have the plastic paneling, something which Cropper did not object to.
Safety and impact aside, Cropper reminded the commission that people on the campground are already allowed to protect their porches from inclement weather by hanging blankets, rugs, curtains or whatever else they wanted to. The plastic paneling was a more attractive and sensible approach, in his opinion.
“Really, there is a common sense, practical, pragmatic position here,” Cropper said.
As part of his presentation, Cropper also introduced a number of Bali Hi Cooperative Campground patrons who petitioned for the enclosures, citing health concerns and matters of comfort. Some of those patrons have already installed soft plastic around their porches and passed inspections with it in place, according to Cropper.
“That proves, right there, that there was no thumbing of the nose,” he said. “The county was aware of it.”
There was some hesitation on the commission. Much like McMahon, many commissioners had questions about the exact criteria for material density and limitations. Additionally, several wanted the language in the amendment to be tweaked and focused specifically on soft plastic paneling as opposed to any other option while adding a clause about smoke detectors being required in enclosed porches.
A motion was made and unanimously approved to table a vote until Cropper could resubmit an adjusted proposal, with about half of the commissioners signaling that they could look favorably on the revised draft.