Assateague Coastal Trust – PO Box 731, Berlin, MD 21811 – 410-629-1538
April 4, 2018
President, Worcester County Planning Commission 1 West Market Street
Snow Hill, MD 21863
In preparation for tomorrow’s Planning Commission meeting I wanted to get this follow up correspondence to you and the other members of the Planning Commission.
Assateague Coastal Trust remains steadfast in our opposition to a sectional map amendment of the E-1 parcels south of Assateague Road along the Rt 611 Corridor to an R-1 designation.
First and foremost, up-zoning the E-1 parcels to R-1 is not consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, or the County’s vision for this area of the county. County residents and stakeholders, when they approved the Comprehensive Plan, envisioned the Rt. 611 corridor as a ‘gateway’ to our State and National Parks on Assateague Island, with open fields and green forests that provide visitors with a lovely view-scape.
Additionally, by placing most parcels in the E-1 designation County planners understood this would protect a sensitive, low lying area from over development, and would allow the area to sustain impacts from storms, flooding and sea level rise. Our County planners also understood that Rt 611 experiences heavy traffic during the summer months and by keeping growth controlled they could help alleviate additional traffic burdens.
We also remain opposed to the idea that wastewater and critical area constraints are a valid argument for telling residents “not to worry, growth won’t happen.” Wastewater treatment technology is rapidly advancing and is already allowing development in areas previously restricted to growth due to septic and effluent handling constraints. As this technology develops, drain fields will get smaller and smaller, and soils will matter less. Therefore R-1 development will not be so ‘constrained.’
ACT strongly feels the South Point sectional map amendment to R-1 is not sound planning for the future of this county and we urge the Planning Commission to not feel they are locked in to only this R-1 option but rather look outside of the box and consider other options.
If the Commission, and residents, are so concerned about the possibility of poultry houses being built on the E-1 parcels why not consider just removing all concentrated animal production from the E-1 zoning code? Most of the county E-1 parcels are in low lying, flood prone areas that are not conducive to industrial scale animal production, and many parcels are located in areas where suburban/urban sprawl have made these parcels unfavorable for animal production. For instance, the Rt 611 Corridor is very unlikely to see concentrated animal production on its E-1 parcels because commercial development and summer tourist traffic make it impossible for the multiple daily trips of tractor trailer trucks to reach the South Point area.
We would offer an even better option, such as putting all the county E-1 zoning in a NEW agriculture zone that only allows small-scale artisanal operations for local sale. This would be a much more progressive option that will encourage a more diverse and sustainable agricultural industry in the county without increasing traffic and human population.
In closing, I wish to repeat what was said in our December 2017 letter to the Planning Commission. Worcester County is in the position to be a leader in ‘coastal resiliency’ land planning. Before the next Comprehensive Rezoning, the County planning department and experts in the field of coastal zone land management need to engage the government and citizens of Worcester County in a transparent and inclusive stakeholder public process to best plan for the inevitable fact that many areas of Worcester County will become wetter and wetter, and this process should be conducted in a forward-thinking strategy that may mean determining new coastal resiliency adaptive zoning districts.
The Planning Commission, if acting responsibly for the benefit of Worcester County and its coastal communities, should not approve the staff recommendations for a ‘sectional map amendment’ and instead recommend back to staff that a comprehensive study, incorporating coastal resiliency land planning strategies, be commissioned in preparation for the next Comprehensive Plan update and Comprehensive Zoning update.
For these reasons, listed above, Assateague Coastal Trust, our Board of Directors and our members implore the Planning Commission to fully consider the ramifications of such an action that is certain to promote higher density in a flood prone area of the county that will lead to further impairment of water quality in Sinepuxent Bay and Newport Bay, already impaired for nutrients and sediment. Let’s not destroy a very special open, unencumbered view-scape that residents and visitors alike enjoy, without first exploring many more options that could be available beyond increasing growth potential in such a sensitive area of the County.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns, and for your efforts to protect the quality of life in our Coastal Bays watershed.
All the best,
Executive Director and Assateague COASTKEEPER Assateague Coastal Trust