County Planning Comm. Supports Rezoning Ag Property As Commercial; Commissioners To Have Ultimate Say

County Planning Comm. Supports Rezoning Ag Property As Commercial; Commissioners To Have Ultimate Say
The owner of the 18-acre parcel near Berlin wants to build a convenience store among other commercial uses on the site. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Planning Commission agreed to give a favorable recommendation to a request to rezone 18 acres at the intersection of Route 346 and Route 50.

The commission voted 5-0 to forward the request, which is to reclassify 18 acres of agricultural land as C-2 commercial, to the Worcester County Commissioners with a favorable recommendation. The rezoning would allow property owner Ernest Gerardi to move forward with plans for a convenience store and other commercial uses on the site.

“This parcel would be very difficult to farm,” commission member Jay Knerr said. “I do believe C-2 would be a better use.”

According to attorney Joe Moore, the property’s current agricultural zoning was a mistake. He said the oddly configured property — which is shaped like a triangle — was bounded by roads on two sides and an electric substation on the other, making it difficult to farm.

Moore said Gerardi had intended to move toward commercial development of the site for some time and had initially approached the Town of Berlin seeking annexation of the property. The two parties were not able to come to agreement, however.

“When we got to the final stages where I was literally preparing an annexation agreement, we were unable to reach agreement with Mr. Gerardi and the town with our respective circumstances, so we withdrew our annexation,” Moore said. “We did so with the consent, and really, the suggestion of the mayor, because it was obvious if we didn’t have an annexation agreement the town could move forward with they weren’t going to annex.”

Moore said Mayor Gee Williams advised him that the town understood that Gerardi would instead pursue rezoning in the county.

“He says the town understood at that time that Mr. Gerardi would file a subsequent application for rezoning in the county to which the Town of Berlin has no objections,” Moore said.

He added that while there was already a lot of commercial zoning on Route 50, most of it was east of Route 589. He acknowledged that there was some commercial zoning on Route 818 but said that it was not as visible as Gerardi’s property.

“Whether or not we are annexed, we are a commercial location that will serve the town,” he said. “You all know … downtown Berlin, which is the commercial hub of the town, is absolutely developed. There is no parking potential there, there’s no additional zoned properties downtown. There are properties on 818 for commercial use but this is unique in that it provides the single most visible property to what we call the gateway of the town.”

Moore asked attorney Hugh Cropper to talk about another zoning change less than five miles to the west of Gerardi’s property.

“I represented Sun Communities at Fort Whaley,” Cropper said. “We came before this commission and rezoned 28 acres from C-2 general commercial district down to ag district, this being less than five miles away. Mr. Moore’s requesting 18 acres of commercial.”

Cropper added that he too thought the agricultural zoning of Gerardi’s property was a mistake.

“I think the other zones are inappropriate for a variety of reasons,” he said. “I think the commercial zoning is more desirable in terms of the comprehensive plan. It is a growth area.”

The commission voted 5-0 to give the rezoning a favorable recommendation.

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.