Split 4-3 Vote Dissolves Shoreline Comm.

SNOW HILL – After months of consideration, the Worcester County Commissioners have formally abolished the Shoreline Commission.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-3 to dissolve the group tasked since the 1970s with reviewing shoreline construction plans.

“We’re the only county that does a commission like this,” said Bob Mitchell, the county’s head of environmental programs.

Mitchell and his staff first suggested the elimination of the commission as a cost saving measure this spring. In spite of the staff recommendation, the commissioners voted in July not to abolish the Shoreline Commission. That decision forced them to rescind a companion bill that would have given the county’s board of zoning appeals authority to consider appeals of staff decisions regarding construction along shorelines.

In August, Commissioner Chip Bertino — one of the four who had voted not to abolish the commission — asked that the issue be revisited. He said he’d spent the weeks following the previous month’s vote researching the issue and had decided he thought it should be eliminated.

“Based on the findings of my research, I’ve determined the abolishment of the Shoreline Commission would remove a layer of government, save property owners a significant amount of money and provide for a more efficient and timely process for applicants interested in making improvements to their shoreline properties,” Bertino said.

On Tuesday, staff again presented draft bills that would dissolve the commission and give the board of zoning appeals the power to handle any objections property owners might have to staff decisions.

Mitchell stressed that getting rid of the commission would remove a bureaucratic hurdle for homeowners interested in building on the water.

“It’s coming down to a philosophical question,” he said. “Are we hindering or helping the property owner?”

He said the process had been institutionalized in recent years and commission members were left with little to do.

“Everything they see meets regulatory requirements…,” Mitchell said. “Everything is being done for them.”

He added that his department could face a budget deficit if the Shoreline Commission continued to operate because of the staff and legal expenses associated with it.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to abolish the commission and 4-3 to give the county’s board of zoning appeals jurisdiction over any potential appeals. Commissioners Diana Purnell, Merrill Lockfaw and Bud Church voted in opposition to both motions.