SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Planning Commission heard the first arguments last week of a case requesting the rezoning of two properties near Route 589 last Thursday.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, who petitioned the commission on behalf of A&B, Silver Fox, LLC and Burbage/Melson, Inc., made a presentation outlining several reasons why his clients felt their properties, which totaled approximately 30 acres, should be rezoned from A-1 (agricultural) to C-2 (commercial).
However, in order to prove to the commission a change in zoning was needed, County Attorney Sonny Bloxom explained Cropper would have to present evidence that “had been left out of the equation,” when the county redrafted its Comprehensive Plan in 2009.
Bloxom added that, even if the commission disagreed with the County Commissioners’ zoning choices, if no new facts were brought up, there wouldn’t be grounds for altering the original zoning.
“Their [the County Commissioners] zoning has to stand,” he said.
Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor, agreed, saying, “We need concrete findings of fact.”
Tudor also pointed out that if the commission decided that the current zoning was incorrect for the properties in question, it did not automatically have to decide to endorse a C-2 zoning. In fact, Tudor said his office originally recommended the R-1 (Residential) zoning for the properties.
After hearing from the county officials, Cropper still thought that his client’s case was strong.
“Our argument is based on a mistake and a change to the neighborhood,” he said, citing that either could justify a change of zoning. “We feel there was a significant mistake.”
Cropper pointed out the two properties his clients wished rezoned were unique compared to their neighbors, referring to the area as “a small spot of green” surrounded by other colors. He reinforced the point by displaying a zoning map, highlighting that the green-colored A-1 properties were in an area dominated by R-1, R-2, R-3 and C-2 zones, calling the current map “inconsistent.”
Cropper said each A-1 property was “not big enough to be a viable farm.” He also presented information not available to the County Commissioners in 2009 — the availability of a possible connection road through the property.
When the Comprehensive Plan was drafted, one of the major reasons the land in question was zoned agricultural was from a fear that a commercial or even residential zoning might increase traffic on the already stressed Route 589. However, Cropper informed the commission that there would be a way to connect King Richard Rd to the Burbage property, creating a minor road which might draw traffic off Route 589. An additional traffic signal could be built as well.
As for a change in the neighborhood, Cropper pointed out the newly built slots casino at Ocean Downs was only about 2,000 feet away from his client’s properties.
“It is absolutely a change in the neighborhood,” he said.
Another of Cropper’s arguments was that Ocean Pines is one of the fastest growing areas in the county, and that the property in question fit most of the criteria for a commercial zone. Land planner Bob Hand supported Cropper’s argument. He explained that when 3,000 or more people were within a 10-20 minute drive of an area it could be considered commercial. According to Hand, Ocean Pines has more fulltime residents than any other municipality in the county. Additionally, he said the area has seen roughly three times the growth of the rest of the county in recent years.
Cropper listed several other reasons why a C-2 zoning would benefit the community.
“It encourages job creation,” he said. “We need retail; we need offices.”
He also revealed that, if the properties were rezoned for commercial use, the current plan was to develop medical offices and a health care facility. Because a large portion of Ocean Pines is made of the elderly and retired, Cropper reasoned that the health care facility would be a boon.
“Rezoning is always the most difficult thing for me as a planning commissioner,” said President Brooks Clayville after hearing Cropper’s argument.
Tudor pointed out that the commission needed to keep in mind that it would not be rezoning specifically for the proposed medical offices but simply changing the designation to C-2, commercial.
Bloxom also weighed in. He reminded the commission that, except for the new information about a possible link up with King Richard Rd, Cropper was presenting a lot of old facts.
“All that stuff was argued out,” he said.
Cropper retorted that he felt if the commissioners disagreed with the zoning they should recommend a change, even if they were simply hearing much of what the County Commissioners heard two years ago.
No decision could be reached during the meeting and the issue has been scheduled for a revisit and public comments later this month.