Monday, October 26, 2009

Rezoning Takes a Step Back

The Worcester County comprehensive rezoning process took a step backwards last week when the commissioners decided to overstep staff and planning commission recommendations and look at rezoning requests on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

While the majority of commissioners seemed to favor following proper procedure, the group conceded to the move after debate stalled on commercial zoning on MD 589 and higher density residential on MD 611 and South Point.

Good reasons exist to discuss these areas, but to re-open the entire rezoning process after professional planning staff and the Worcester County Planning Commission have strenuously reviewed the over 100 requests for zoning changes is without merit.

Comprehensive planning and zoning is about the long-term well-being of the community, not what’s most lucrative for individual property owners. For the past four years, the public and planning staff have taken great pains to make sure transportation, wildlife, bay health, and public safety were top priorities in the county’s comprehensive plan and rezoning.

The award-winning Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was written to keep new growth out of forests, wetlands, flood-prone areas, and around existing infrastructure. This protects the public, water quality, tourism, and keeps taxes low. Upzoning requests that do not adhere to the comprehensive plan or to these principles should be disregarded.

Elected officials should serve to do what’s best for their community, not certain individuals or other special interests. Randomly spot zoning individual parcels has nothing to do with the greater good. Arbitrary zoning decisions that abandon the notion of planning should be rigorously questioned. Moreover, any decision about changes on individual parcels should be subject to a hearing and further debate from all Worcester County citizens.

If certain commissioners have issues with zoning change requests that were denied, they should bring those to the fore. But going over ever request parcel by parcel has already been done ad nauseum and will take months of work sessions.

The dismantling of the Worcester County Comprehensive Planning Department earlier this year makes this latest maneuver all the more troubling. By now most know that residential development doesn’t pay for itself. Examples of the effects of unchecked development on taxes abound from Glenn Burnie to Wicomico County.

We are confident that the majority of commissioners will take an ethical stance on this issue and side with the planning commission, county staff, and the public which created the comprehensive plan that the zoning should mirror.

The silver lining on re-opening this debate could be that it will allow communities to address certain parcels that are not consistent with the comp plan, such as the ones zoned A-2 along MD611/Sinepuxent Rd., all of the estate zoning (most of which is in flood-prone areas and should be zoned for Resource Protection), the large proposed commercial site across from Stephen Decatur High School, Gumpoint Road, the expanded village district near Stockton, the commercial zoning both along US 50 and to the south and east on the MD 376/611 junction etc., etc.

Planning and zoning are the key factors in determining the future economic and environmental health of towns and counties.
The comprehensive plan and the zoning that follows it were created by citizens, property owners, and professional planners who worked hard to reach consensus.

But however much quick profits and individual property owners come into play, the Worcester County Commissioners have a moral and political obligation to stick to the core planning principles in the comprehensive rezoning for the common good and future health of their community.

Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan won numerous awards and was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. The commissioners should be sure the zoning regulations do the same.

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