“Blessed with such richness and diversity, Worcester County faces a challenge to continue its high quality of life.” Part of Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan as written in 2006, these words are even more important today.
However, in recent months the Worcester County Commissioners have changed important aspects of the plan without the benefit of public comment. At its core, the plan is designed to guide policy decisions on a wide range of fundamental issues. It plays a vital role in shaping the long-term future of our county and residents should get a chance to review and comment. Toward that end, we hope the commissioners will consider holding a total of four public hearings – two at each end of the county – focusing first on design standards then on changes in zoning. If needed, additional hearings may be in order.
Essentially a blueprint for the future, the comprehensive plan establishes land-use policies, identifies growth areas and provides for agriculture preservation, open space protection, historic preservation and economic development. As proposed, eliminating large lot zoning on 8,000 acres of land, a plan to make developers pay for infrastructure costs associated with their projects, incorporation of nutrient reduction strategies and requiring energy and water efficiency standards in new building have all been removed or altered by the commissioners.
To be sure, the Worcester County Commissioners have a difficult job to do as they work to harmonize land use and the Zoning and Subdivision Control Article with the plan. Still, we hope they will give residents time to look at their proposal and listen to public opinion before taking action.
The plan itself underscores the need for public comment... “Citizens should be informed and be involved in major program and policy development.” The plan further states the need to “improve ongoing citizen participation and education to foster citizen understanding and input into county.”
The issues at hand are complex and must be addressed individually and carefully. The commissioners have so far been receptive and responsible regarding planning efforts in the county. Indeed, Worcester County's Comprehensive Plan is widely considered a model nationwide. We support the Commissioners hard work and believe that they too would welcome comments from their constituents.
Andrew Johnson once said “The life of a republic lies certainly in the energy, virtue and intelligence of its citizens.” We are certain that the commissioners agree with that sentiment and will urge county residents to get involved. The comprehensive plan is a significant document for our county’s future. Gathering as much public comment as possible will go a long way toward ensuring a plan that everyone can live with.