Text Amendment Targets Residential Development

SNOW HILL – County officials approved a bill that will allow more flexibility when it comes to residential development in the C-3 commercial district.

The Worcester County Commissioners last week approved a text amendment that will allow multifamily dwellings in the C-3 district. The change will affect a handful of properties near Home Depot.

“This text amendment, as indicated, would retain the C-3 zoning classification of those properties,” attorney Mark Cropper said. “We’re not seeking to take the zoning away, all we’re seeking to do is make more flexible the development of those properties and incorporate a high density residential component into high intensity commercial.”

Jennifer Keener, the county’s director of development review and permitting, told the commissioners this week that the Worcester County Planning Commission had voted unanimously to give a favorable recommendation to a proposed text amendment that would allow multi-family dwellings in the C-3 district. Keener said it would mean that a developer could have 65% of a property commercial and then use the remaining 35% for high density residential. She pointed out that of that 35%, 15% would be required to be open space.

Cropper told the commissioners there were just five properties zoned C-3 and that two of them were already developed.

“The remaining three have not been touched,” he said. “They have remained vacant. There’s a reason for that.”

He explained that when the county’s land use plan was adopted in 2009, it was believed that big box retail development was going to be the wave of the future.

“That has simply proven to be untrue,” he said. “Now with the advent of Amazon and other shopping websites, most people actually prefer to shop online or use small mom and pop shops versus big box. Big boxes have kind of lost their favor with the shopping public.”

At the same time, he said Worcester County was experiencing a shortage of affordable housing. Cropper said the text amendment would address that need and at the same time give more flexibility to developers.

“I don’t want anybody to think we’re here trying to substantially change your zoning code,” he said. “We’re not. Your zoning code already allows residential in the C-3 zoning district. It simply requires that residential be incorporated into and made a part of the commercial structure itself. What we’re seeking here is essentially the same thing but the residential doesn’t have to be part of and located within the commercial structure itself. It can be separate. A separate community but part of the overall parcel.”

He added that in West Ocean City, the Seaside Village development abutted the outlets.

“Those projects have been some of the most popular residential projects in Worcester County,” he said. “People love living there. They’re full now and I think they will forever stay full. That is evidence in my opinion that comingling or combining high intensity residential with intense commercial obviously works and it’s consistent with the comprehensive plan.”

Cropper showed the commissioners a potential layout of a development such as the one the text amendment would allow and pointed out that its density was less than what was currently permitted. The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the text amendment.

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.