SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners approved a request to rezone property on Herring Creek despite concerns from neighbors.
Following a public hearing Tuesday, the commissioners voted 6-1 to rezone 2.25 acres on Route 50 at Herring Creek. The rezoning is expected to allow Blue Water Development to pursue construction of a new office on the site.
“They have a proven track record,” Commissioner Bud Church said.
Attorney Hugh Cropper told the commissioners he was seeking rezoning of the 2.25 acres on the north side of Route 50, east of Herring Creek, because a mistake had been made when it was labeled R-2 residential. He said it should be reclassified as C-2 general commercial and noted that the county’s comprehensive plan designated the site as commercial.
He added that the site’s building envelope was also not conducive to residential development. Cropper told the commissioners Blue Water Development owner Jack Burbage wanted to buy the property to build a new corporate office there.
“In 30 years, no one’s been able to touch this property,” he said. “It doesn’t work as residential.”
Several area residents shared concerns about development plans for the site, noting its proximity to Herring Creek. A Waterview Drive resident said that if the land was rezoned commercial, it could eventually be the site of a commercial water sports business.
Cropper said deed restrictions would limit development to an office building.
Several neighbors referenced a conceptual plan created for the property. They said it showed the new building too close to the water, in what should be a buffer zone. Silver Point Lane resident John O’Dell said the plan showed an office building with more than 90 parking places.
“If you have that much runoff into the creek it’s got to have a bad effect on the creek,” he said.
Another Silver Point Lane resident said rezoning the property could open the door to future commercial development in the area.
“We’re very concerned as neighbors how this is going to change the character of our creek,” he said.
Area resident Joe Albero also referenced the concept drawing and how it showed a building just 30 feet from the water.
Cropper said the drawing neighbors had apparently seen was simply one possibility of what could go on the site. He added that when development proceeded, there would be multiple boards that would review and weigh in and even host public hearings on the site plan. Cropper pointed out all the neighbors frustrated that the concept plan showed a building in the buffer zone had homes right on the water themselves.
“All these people, they’re 20-, 25-feet from the creek,” he said.
Patrice and John Lehmann, who own a 100-year-old home on Silver Point Lane, said they didn’t want to see the property rezoned because it could be turned into something else like a restaurant or bar in the future.
“You go to your home to rest, recharge,” Patrice Lehmann said. “You don’t want to see commercial traffic. That’s not what a home and a place of rest is about.”
Ron Smith, representing a local fishing group, said the water in the are was already impaired and prone to fish kills.
“This is just going to set us back,” he said.
Cropper, reiterating that any development would be subject to various reviews and hearings, said that homes on Silver Point Lane were on septic systems.
“That’s the stuff that impacts the creek,” he said, adding that commercial development on the site in questions would be subject to the latest requirements related to wastewater and stormwater. “Any development is going to be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino said that while the drawing neighbors had shown the commissioners might have been conceptual, he couldn’t unsee it.
“I can’t support this,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he had reservations about the rezoning but that it would be subject to further review as development proceeded.
“I think they’ll need to meet with the neighbors and get a plan that suits everybody,” he said.
Church spoke strongly in support of the rezoning and reminded those in attendance he’d been in the local real estate industry for half a century.
“I think it’s appropriate,” he said.
He praised the Burbage family specifically.
“They don’t do anything halfway,” he said. “Jack is a friend of mine, I’ll admit that. They have a proven track record. If I had any doubt, I’d vote against it.”
Commissioner Diana Purnell said the project would come before the commissioners again.
“When you come back you better have something better than what you got today,” she said.
Staff said the project would likely be reviewed by county boards and the critical area commission but wouldn’t necessarily come back before the commissioners.
“I’m torn about this,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said, adding that the rezoning had been favorably recommended by the Worcester County Planning Commission.
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Bertino opposed, to approve the rezoning.