SNOW HILL – South Point’s residents objected this week to a land reclassification they’re worried could lead to more development on Route 611.
At a Critical Area Commission hearing regarding a mapping mistake at a property on Route 611, several South Point residents voiced their concerns. They don’t want to see change in what they view as a fragile area that’s already heavily trafficked by state and national park visitors.
“It’s got to stop,” said Michael LeCompte, president of the South Point Association. “We are going to fight it tooth and nail until probably all of us die off. We don’t want to see development south of Route 376 in Worcester County. It’s not because we have anything against anybody. It’s all about safety.”
A Critical Area Commission panel met in Snow Hill on Monday to receive public comments regarding a Critical Area map amendment. The Worcester County Commissioners previously approved the amendment, which relates to property owned by Todd Burbage’s Ayres Creek Family Farm LLC at 8219 Stephen Decatur Highway, in 2022. The Critical Area Commission is tasked with reviewing the local government’s proposed change under the standards of Critical Area Law, which is meant to minimize adverse impacts on water quality, conserve habitat and establish land use policies for development.
County staff told the commission the applicant wanted to reclassify 8.34 acres of land from Resource Conservation Area (RCA) to Limited Development Area (LDA). The change received a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission in 2021 and in 2022 was approved by the Worcester County Commissioners.
“Presently, the subject property is restricted to a 15% maximum lot coverage limit,” said Joy Birch, the county’s natural resources planner. “This specific limit is 1.25 acres based upon the lot size of 8.34 acres. This lot coverage limit is applicable to both Limited Development Areas (LDA) and Resource Conservation Areas (RCA) within the Critical Area Program. As a result of this requirement, the lot coverage restriction will remain in place whether or not the lot is amended to LDA or remains RCA.”
Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing Ayres Creek Family Farm, told the commission a mistake had been made in 2002 when the land was given the RCA designation. Though the land was labeled RCA because it was home to a golf course at the time, it included buildings such as a golf clubhouse that are not permitted in the RCA. Cropper said he was seeking to correct that mistake by having the site, which is currently home to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program office, relabeled as LDA. He stressed that even with the change, no additional lot coverage would be allowed.
“Whether or not you grant this request it can’t be expanded,” he said.
He added that the portion of the property that wasn’t RCA had estate zoning.
“Any talk of townhouses, condos, Busch Gardens, it’s not happening,” he said.
South Point residents, however, are still concerned about future development. Resident Steve Katsanos said Critical Area designations should have permanence and urged the commission to reject Cropper’s request.
“Mr. Burbage and his attorney, Hugh T. Cropper IV, have considerable star power in Worcester County…,” Katsanos said. “I think it is fair to say when Mr. Cropper brings a matter before our county commissioners, he has considerable influence. When he says Mr. Burbage wants something, he usually gets what he asks for from the commissioners.”
Katsanos argued the commission should reject the request and return it to the Worcester County Commissioners so they could reconsider it. He said a change shouldn’t be approved just to make a piece of land more valuable commercially.
“You decided to go ahead with this hearing, relying on an old resolution and a report supervised by Mr. Cropper that paints correcting this alleged mistake as the right thing to do for Mr. Burbage,” Katsanos said. “The mistake was not the classification. The mistake was approving the code amendment permitting Mr. Burbage to restart use of the buildings. Besides the likely tax benefits, you gave him a placeholder he now wants to exploit.”
Resident Diane Stelzner said South Point was pristine and that designations like RCA would help ensure it stayed that way.
Resident Rick Savage said he’d lived there 57 years and didn’t believe the area needed more development.
“It worries me if they start easing down the road with the sewer,” he said.
LeCompte said he and his fellow community members were in attendance because they wanted to understand the reason why a change from RCA to LDA was being sought. He stressed that local water quality needed improvement and that the area was already impacted by the approximately two million visitors to Assateague annually.
LeCompte added that the nearby Route 376 intersection wasn’t safe and would be even less so with more traffic on the road, something he worries could result if changes are made at the subject property.
“We’re not arguing about anything north of Maryland Route 376…,” he said. “That’s being developed dramatically. Us in the fire department, we call it Glen Burnie. Above that, we’re going to keep our nose out of it. But south of that, we have no other choice … We’ve got to ask you all to say stop.”
Resident Vonnie Brown said that while the commissioners might have to consider development and the boost it can provide to the economy in their decisions, the Critical Area Commission did not.
“Your job is not to stoke that engine, your job is to preserve and protect our treasured bay,” she said. “Zoning is and has been for years a safety net against overdevelopment and misuse of resources. Moving from a Resource Conservation Area to a Limited Development Area fails to protect the watershed. I respectfully ask that you just do your job and not let that happen.”
South Point resident John Zajac echoed the concern for the “very fragile” area.
“That Critical Area really needs to be protected,” he said.
Cropper pointed out that the residents who were objecting to the LDA designation because of the possible potential for development all lived on properties classified as LDA.
“They don’t have an understanding of what a reclassification from RCA to LDA means,” he said. “The whole South Point peninsula is LDA.”
The commission agreed to leave the record open for the Ayres Creek issue until Nov. 6. On Nov. 9, the panel will meet again to evaluate the mapping mistake request and develop a recommendation to the full commission. The full Critical Area Commission is expected to review the Ayres Creek request at its Dec. 6 meeting.