County Advances Several Bills To Public Hearings

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners chose this week to pass forward a number of bills to public hearings on topics such as solar regulations, extended stay accommodations and fire sprinklers. The commissioners also withdrew their official opposition to a business owner in Snow Hill seeking an upgrade from beer and wine to a retail liquor license.

There was some disagreement over the four legislative bills discussed Tuesday but enough commissioners were willing to put their names on the bills to move all of them forward for public hearings on Oct. 21.

The first such bill was for a re-definition and alteration of some solar energy regulations. The bill would create a definition for a new “utility scale” sized solar project, which is over 2.5-megawatts, as well as revise the size of a large project to under 2.5-megawatts and change lot setbacks and minimum acreages.

The Planning Commission had some issues with the changes earlier this month, asserting that suggested setbacks are too low and need to be a 200-foot minimum from property lines and that vegetative screening must be mandated when installations are near residential properties.

County Commissioner Jim Bunting was in favor of sending the bill “back to the drawing board,” acknowledging that Worcester’s solar regulations appear to be outdated but specifically unsatisfied with the proposal. However, the rest of the commission agreed to at least send the bill to a public hearing, feeling that enough time has been spent tweaking the legislation and now it is time for residents to weigh in.

“I don’t know that we need to re-invent the wheel and go through more Planning Commission meetings, more staff time, at a public hearing we would hear both sides,” said County Commission President Bud Church.

Church had a similar philosophy with the next bill. That legislation would amend C-2 General Commercial District regulations to “allow a new use called an extended stay hotel or motel.” The legislation seeks to allow the construction of buildings with six or more units between 500 square feet and 1,000 square feet that could be rented out for no more than 12 consecutive months.

Again, the Planning Commission was unhappy with the applicant’s proposal and suggested that the units not exceed 800 square feet with a time limit of six months. County Commissioner Judy Boggs chose not to have her name on the bill due to her perception that the legislation has too many pitfalls in the way it alters the C-2 district.

However, as with solar, Church argued that the applicant’s deserve their day in public and the bill will advance to a public hearing. His name and Commissioner Jim Purnell’s went on the legislation.

The final two bills that advanced regarded sprinkler systems. The first was in reference to an error back in 2010 when the county was re-wording multi-family structure standards.

“An oversight has now been discovered in regards to the fire protection definition of a townhouse,” said Jeff McMahon, fire marshal.

This has caused issues where the minimum sprinkler requirements for townhouses are slightly lower than what they were in 2010. McMahon has suggested bringing it back in line. The second bill on sprinklers is for a Quality Assurance Program (QAP) that is supposed to keep systems maintained and tested. An outside vendor would be used for the QAP and, while this would cut into the county’s share of sprinkler system fees collected, the commission agreed to advance both bills for public hearings.

The commission’s attitude of letting everyone have their day at a public appearance carried over from legislative bills to private enterprise Tuesday. They voted unanimously to rescind their opposition to Town Market Basket in Snow Hill. The business has applied for an upgrade of their retail beer and wine license to beer, wine and liquor. The county had taken a stance of opposition to such an upgrade, worrying that the Snow Hill community is already covered by the county liquor dispensary.

Any private liquor off-sale in the town would hurt county sales and create an unfavorable environment of oversaturation, the commission argued earlier this summer. But this week they backed away from that position, choosing to allow the Board of License Commissioners to make their ruling without the county taking sides.

“I feel as though our board of licensees is very capable and we trust their decisions,” said Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw. “They know what the law is and that we don’t want a liquor store on every corner.”

This doesn’t mean that the county supports the addition of private liquor retail in Snow Hill, however. The commissioners have confirmed that they will be maintaining a Shore Spirits liquor mart within the community for the foreseeable future and believe they more than meet residents’ needs. They just won’t be actively arguing against Town Market Basket.

“So what they’re saying is that they’re not going to take those steps, now, but we’re still opposed to it but we trust the liquor licensing board to take all of that into account,” said Sonny Bloxom, attorney for the county.