St. Martins Neck Property ‘Downzoning’ OK’d

SNOW HILL – County officials approved a rezoning request this week in spite of opposition from neighbors of the property.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted to support rezoning 2.2 acres on the south side of St. Martins Neck Road from E-1 estate to A-2 agricultural. Though they granted the request, the commissioners encouraged citizens who didn’t want to see the property developed to share their concerns with the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals if the property owner sought permission for a special exception in the future.

“I would urge the protestors here today to make sure they attend the board of zoning appeals meeting,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “That’s where your case needs to be made.”

On behalf of Ocean Tower Investment LLC, attorney Hugh Cropper presented the commissioners with a request to rezone 2.2 acres on St. Martins Neck Road from E-1 to A-2. He said the change, which had received a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission, was appropriate, as the county has been clear about its intention to eventually eliminate estate zoning.

“It’s an antiquated concept,” he said. “It’s an antiquated zoning district.”

He said the property in question was opposite Todd Industrial Park and was not suitable for residential zoning.

“If you were to build a house there you’d be awake 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said, citing the truck traffic the industrial park attracted.

He said his client was not seeking commercial zoning but added that things like sheds and contractor shops were allowed in the A-2 district if the board of zoning appeals approved a special exception for the property.

Neighbors of the St. Martins Neck Road property objected to the rezoning request, pointing out that there were residential parcels in the area. Several indicated that Cropper’s client intended to store his contractor equipment on the site.

“I just want to make sure there are some limitations to protect us as existing property owners,” said Paul Till, who owns nearby land.

Neighbor Ralph Gallo said the area was a beautiful place to live in spite of Todd Industrial Park. He said the individuals who owned the lots adjacent to the one in question would be negatively impacted.

“I think they’re getting a raw deal,” he said. “Why should his value go up and their value go down?”

Nearby property owner James Garratt said there had been allegations that Cropper’s client had done work on the building that’s already on the site before getting the necessary permits.

“He is clearly storing commercial equipment on the site,” he said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked staff to address the permitting allegation. Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor said that while work had started on the site slightly before a permit was issued the property owner had been notified and had then applied for the appropriate permits.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he’d been advised by individuals looking for an industrial site that county officials had told them there would be no more contractor shops or industrial uses in that area.

“I would definitely say that in the future if that was the use that was coming forward to the zoning appeals board that I would hope that they would in fact turn that down,” he said, adding that he did, however, support the rezoning. “This is a downzoning. I don’t think there’s anything that says that we shouldn’t do this at this point in time.”

Mitrecic said Cropper had explained how the proposed change to A-2 fit the county’s comprehensive plan.

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do about this change but I would certainly caution the zoning appeals board to look at this very carefully and listen to the folks this is going to effect,” Mitrecic said.

Bunting agreed. He said the test had been met and the planning commission had supported the proposed change.

“Mr. Cropper did do his job,” he said. “We are going to do away with the estate zoning eventually. This is a downzoning.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rezoning request.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.