Worcester Planners Pass On Favorable Votes

SNOW HILL — At this month’s Worcester County Planning Commission meeting, officials addressed aquaculture efforts in Estate Districts, cemeteries in Village Districts and effluent outfalls related to discharge from the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant.

For effluent outfall, the commission was presented with an amendment that adds a disposal program to the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant.

“In order to fully utilize the capacity of the Mystic plant, we’re going to need to find additional land disposal efforts,” said Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs for the county. “With the commissioners, we did study the Route 611 effluent area for disposal.”

The amendment presented would add two additional outfalls and would increase effluent discharge from the plant to 450,000 gallons per day. The original plant handled 250,000 gallons while the new plant does about 300,000 and has the capacity to deal with 450,000 gallons and the potential to reach up to 600,000.

The county has inked a deal with Ocean City to use nearby Eagle’s Landing Golf Course as an effluent disposal area for months and last week’s amendment saw that partnership continue. Much of the necessary infrastructure for an Eagle’s Landing connection has already been laid.

“We took advantage of the fact that they were building the pipeline from Castaways Campground down to the Mystic Harbor plant to put a second pipe in the ground,” said John Ross, deputy director of Public Works, “so that it wouldn’t get effluent backup. We still have connections to make at both ends. The large portion of that pipe we’ve put in the ground in anticipation that we could get approval for this.”

An investigation was made into using the Ocean City airport as an outfall as well, but Mitchell confirmed that the site can’t be used due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations and “bureaucratic nuances.”

The county came before the commission to check to make sure that the amendment is in line with the Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Commission unanimously agreed that it is and the county will move forward in setting up the outfalls.

“We moved forward with the Mystic Harbor plant because it was in such physically poor condition and here six years later we’ve finally found a place to get rid of the effluent so we’re just trying to follow that up now, to close the loop now,” Ross said.

Also discussed by the commission was missing language in the code that would address the status of cemeteries in V-1 Village Districts. The code currently has verbiage “inadvertently omitted” which would cover cemeteries in V-1 as a permitted use by special exception.

“Staff didn’t really notice this until we had a case recently within the last year where we had to deal with a cemetery in a Village District,” said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, “and it was like one of those, ‘oh crap’ moments. So I’m looking back and realized that we didn’t include it when we updated the code last time. We have at least 13 cemeteries in Village Districts. It’s something that we need to fix because it’s going to come up again.”

While the county does anticipate encountering the issue in the future, it’s unlikely that the occupants of the cemeteries will be up in arms over zoning technicalities. The commission gave a favorable recommendation to a text amendment adding the missing language.

The final matter that the commission tackled, another text amendment, was for the regulations covering aquacultures in E-1 Estate Districts. A group of residents put forth a proposal to remove aquacultures as permitted uses and instead qualify them as special exceptions in that district. The proposal would also increase the minimum lot requirement for an aquaculture from five acres to 15.

The commission again gave a favorable recommendation to the text amendment but did have some concerns, particularly with setbacks. The proposed setback would only be 20 feet and Commissioner Richard Wells worried that limit would be a bit claustrophobic for the E-1 district.

“In the estate zone, if I had a house next to them, I don’t think I’d want people putting stuff within 20 feet of my property if there was a lot of stuff piled up and that kind of thing. Is there any way that the setbacks can be increased?,” said Wells.

Commissioner Wayne Hartman suggested that the commission give the text amendment a favorable recommendation but attach a caveat that when the document is reviewed by the Worcester County Commissioner that they consider including wider setbacks. Hartman didn’t supply any specific number, only that the county expand on what is proposed by some degree.

The vote was unanimous. However, Commissioner Brooks Clayville believed that making aquacultures a special exemption in E-1 means that the county Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) would be able to address setback and lot requirements on a case-by-case basis.

“I really feel like the BZA would pick that up,” Clayville said. “That’s what they’re there for.”