(May 22, 2020) The Worcester County Commissioners approved two zoning code amendments – one to allow special events in the resource protection district and another for special events in the resource conservation areas in the Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area.
Attorney and applicant Mark Cropper said that the amendment for the resource protection district is not site-specific and mirrors the language that allows for events like weddings, family reunions, birthday parties in A1, A2 and E1 districts.
He added that the second amendment was needed to make the natural resources code compatible and because some areas in the resource protection district are also in the conservation areas.
The Worcester County Planning Commission endorsed the amendment on March 5, but also pointed out several issues, such as whether the standards for the critical area were reviewed by a board for the critical area instead of the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals. In addition, the staff pointed out that areas in the resource protection zone were selected because they needed protection and that even though the impact would likely be minimal, the amendment could erode the zoning code.
Cropper said the best example of the amendment was the Rackcliffe House off Rum Point Lane south of Route 611, a resource protection zone. He said that many charitable and celebratory events take place there.
“To my knowledge, I’ve never heard anybody complain or be concerned about the impact on that property,” Cropper said.
In the amendment, the event can take place no closer than 500 feet to a residence on a neighboring property and amplified music must stop at 11 p.m.
The commissioners unanimously approved the amendment.
Bob Mitchell, director of environment programs, introduced the second amendment and noted that the requirements for the critical area are stricter than the resource protection area.
Mitchell said that the lot coverage pertaining to special events must occur outside the buffer; the application must include a scaled drawing that details the zoning site requirements and demonstrates how the special event will minimize impacts to natural resources; activities must take place near existing structures; events can only take place on properties 25 acres or larger; events must be held between April 1 and Oct. 31; and lot coverage and proposed temporary structures must meet and comply with habitat protection area requirements.
“This amendment merely allows a temporary use within this designation and affords visitors to these events the enjoyment and appreciation of the environment in an undeveloped setting,” Mitchell said.
In the public comment, attorney Hugh Cropper said that the restriction on properties less than 25 acres seemed arbitrary.
County Commissioner Ted Elder agreed and said he thought the 25-acre rule would exclude properties that should have the same opportunity.
“I don’t know where you need to set that number, but 25 does seem kinda controversial,” Elder said.
Jenelle Gerthoffer, natural resources administrator, said the 25 acres was based on comments from other counties that had this same amendment.
Elder recommended setting the minimum at 15 acres.
“The staff only used recommendations from other counties,” Elder said. “We’re Worcester County, we don’t base what we’re doing on other counties.”
Mitchell said that it’s not an issue of Worcester being independent, but about following a statewide law.
“The way that these changes come about is that the counties consult the critical area staff and we usually have some formation of policy that is statewide,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes, Worcester is the lead, the first to make the amendments. This was not that case.”
County Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that to build a home in the critical area, it must be one home per 20 acres and that this amendment would approve events throughout the months.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve both amendments as written.