Thursday, August 27, 2009

Viable Compromise Reached with Planning & Zoning

The road to consensus on planning and zoning matters can be a bumpy one but the past two month’s work with the Worcester County comprehensive rezoning has proven that when people work together harmony is possible.
While there are several issues that were not resolved to the liking of all in the conservation community, the middle ground reached so far in the principal issues surrounding the county’s rezoning represent a viable compromise.
The Worcester County Department of Development Review and Permitting have met several times with the county planning commission to hash out the details of issues in the revamped code ranging from commercial zoning to conservation of agricultural land. In general, the recommendations from staff and the planning commission have made the comprehensive rezoning more in step with the award winning Worcester County Comprehensive Plan passed in 2006.
Specifically, the group agreed to draft language to
• No longer zone South Point for higher density
• Scale back the more permissive agricultural zoning (A-2) and limit development from certain soil types in the district while protecting parcels for farming and forestry
• Keep true agricultural zoning (A-1) free of golf courses, campgrounds and other non-agricultural uses
• Not permit upzoning of random parcels that property owners requested outside designated growth areas

Although the Coastal Bays Program would have also liked to see (1) a transfer of development rights program for the excess commercial zoning on Route 50 from Ocean City to Berlin and for large lot estate zoning, (2) mandatory conservation subdivision design, (3) and addressing of TMDLs (maximum allowable nutrient load) for subwatersheds, we understand the process is one compromise.
Along with the comprehensive rezoning, the planning commission should take steps to make sure an ill-conceived service road through a forested wetland complex south of US 50 from Holly Grove Road to Flower Street is either rerouted or nixed for the original State Highway-approved road that avoids the heavily wooded area.
The county’s reorganization of planning and zoning staff should also include a Comprehensive Planning Department which was dismantled in the move to “streamline” county government. Currently the county has no organized comprehensive planning but will need it to protect the long-term ecological and economic viability of Worcester County and keep pace with national trends in professional planning.
It’s now up to the Worcester County Commissioners to make sure the re-zoning and the road are consistent with the comprehensive plan. We are hopeful that they will continue to listen to their experienced planning staff, the county planning commission, and the citizens of Worcester County.

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