Monday, March 30, 2009

Pay Attention to Proposed Zoning Regulations

Planning and zoning are the key factors in determining the future economic and environmental health of towns and counties.
That’s why Worcester County citizens should carefully study the proposed county zoning regulations and maps before the public hearings later this spring. A key question is whether the new zoning matches the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan which the county commissioners, citizens, and planners created together by consensus and approved in 2006.
The code and maps were just released on the county’s website ( two weeks ago. Aside from matching up the comprehensive plan map with the new zoning map, residents should be mindful of some of the core principles adopted by the county in the comprehensive plan: Do the new growth areas avoid forests and wetlands? Are these areas away from floodplains? Is there a Transfer of Development Rights program to help eliminate commercial strip zoning and large lot estate zoning? Is there a provision for conservation subdivision designs in the plan, and do the new growth areas allow for the county to meet its TMDLs, the maximum allowable nutrient load permitted for certain water bodies?
There are also new provisions in the plan that allow for more lots, if clustered, on agriculturally zoned land, and a new agricultural zoning district (A-2) that consumes more than 3,000 acres of land along MD 589, Sinepuxent Road, MD 611, Mary Road east of Berlin and around Stockton. The more permissive A-2 district would allow for transferring lots from numerous parcels to make one larger development and the district would permit a variety of other uses like correctional facilities, effluent storage, race tracks, hospitals, water craft storage/construction yards, farm labor camps, and veterinary facilities.
Some of the areas upzoned for residential subdivisions include parts of South Point, Libertytown Road west of Berlin, MD 611 just south of Assateague Road, Gumpoint Road, and most of Shingle Landing and Bishopville prongs. A large area next to Stephen Decatur Middle School is also proposed for big box commercial development.
Along the shore of Assawoman Bay across from Ocean City much of the larger lot zoning has been rezoned for more conservation purposes as has parts of Assateague Road.
No doubt county planners are tasked with tough decisions on thousands of parcels. Few brews are more toxic than those that bring together politics, property owners, and planning, and few souls are braver than those who have to navigate them.
But however much politics and individual property owners come into play, when it comes to a vote on the zoning regulations in June, the Worcester County Commissioners must stick to the comprehensive plan and its core planning principles for the common good and future health of their community.
Residents can peruse those regulations and maps April 20-23 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and April 24 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on the 3rd floor of the Worcester County Government Center in Snow Hill. The county will also hold workshops April 27 from 5-8 p.m. at the Rec. Center on Public Landing Road and April 29 at the same time at Stephen Decatur High School.
Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan won numerous awards and was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. Citizens should be sure the zoning regulations do the same.

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