I met with members of the Worcester County Commission (the governing body) and staff over lunch on Monday to discuss what they viewed as the most challenging issues facing the County.
The verdict was unanimous: growth & its impacts topped everyone's list.
Worcester County, Maryland, includes Ocean City and surrounding areas, mostly to the east. It's population is just under 50,000. For the most part, the county has -- till now -- not borne the full impact of development pressures first triggered 55 years ago by the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (linking the Eastern Shore to the Baltimore-Washington metropolis).
Part of Worcester County's "good fortune" has been due to smart farmland preservation policies which have drastically limited the conversion of agricultural land. This has been done through strict 1 unit per 20 acre zoning, with allowance for four 2-acre parcels to be developed on, say, a 100 acre tract, leaving 92 acres in as farmland (Worcester County officials refer to this practice as "minor subdivisions by right." In addition -- and aided by Maryland law -- rezoning of farmland to non-agricultural use is rarely permitted. And, to top it off, the County has a very active purchase of development rights program.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation,for example, has found that Worcester County has the highest level of farmland protection of any county on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
While the County's agricultural zoning has worked remarkably well, the new challenge is dealing with the arrival of national home builders in the County -- with proposals for large scale developments (such as the Glen Riddle project mentioned in my post about Berlin, Maryland; see also this photo of the sales centers at Glen Riddle). Concerns about how to deal with national builders were expressed by several County officials during our lunch.
A related problem the County is facing is the need for workforce housing -- that is, housing that's at prices the average worker in the County can afford. The new housing being built is aimed at a different, and far wealthier, market: homebuyers from the major East Coast metro areas looking for a second home, or to retire. Worcester County offers an attractive setting for many of these people, especially as they face even higher housing prices elsewhere.
photos: In front of the Atlantic Hotel in the heart of Berlin with members of the Worcester County Commission and others. From left to right: Linda Busick, County Commissioner; Phylis Wimbrow, Asst. Director of Planning, Permits & Inspections; Judy Boggs, County Commissioner; me (holding the certificate I received) Doug Slingerland, Planning Commissioner; Sandy Coyman, Planning Director; and Katherine Munson, Comprehensive Planner. Also attending the lunch, but not in the photo: County Commissioner Bud Church; County Attorney Ed Hammond; and Asst. Chief County Administrative Officer Kelly Shannahan.
I was amazed & honored with hearing that Monday was proclaimed Planning Commissioners Journal day in Worcester County -- and Commissioner Judy Boggs presented me with the signed proclamation!