EDIT: A previous version of this story misidentified Louise Gulyas as a “nay” vote.
(Oct. 24, 2014) Despite warnings from County Attorney Sonny Bloxom and Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor, the Worcester County Commissioners waded into the troubled waters of an aquaculture farm set up in the South Point neighborhood.
The commissioners voted 4-3, with Virgil Shockley, Jim Bunting and Judy Boggs against removing aquaculture as a permitted principal use for land zoned E-1 and instead allowing it by special exception, a process that requires more approvals from county officials. It also ups the required lot size for an aquaculture operation from five to 15 acres.
This process was undertaken with the specific purpose of limiting the operations of a single aquaculture farm in South Point, run by an individual not present at the hearing and identified only as “Mr. Marsh.” This person, as was stated several times during the hearing, owns a five-acre lot in the area. A neighbor’s concerns that Marsh would simply purchase the lot next door to his, another five acres, resulted in an increase in the land requirement from five to 15 acres.
According to commissioner president Bud Church, lawsuits have been filed and defended, but the cost to pursue a legal remedy is becoming too great for the neighbors. Church said Marsh has “the State (of Maryland) on his side.”
Bunting voiced strong objections to the change because it would affect his district miles away from the contested area. He said he thought the role of the commissioners was to speak for the entire county and not to get involved in neighborhood concerns.
Part of the issue seems to be who can control what in terms of governance. The county has authority over planning and zoning, the federal government regulates the water, and the state has jurisdiction over the ground under the water. Because aquaculture uses the land in support of water-borne farming the state would like to encourage, overlapping interests quickly turn into disagreements.
Clearly divided over who should do what, if anything, and which who should be held responsible, the board voted to enact the legislation. Enforcement will once again likely be an issue. Tudor noted that while the county may have the authority to enforce certain things, in practical terms his office would be unable to manage the glut of complaints about property use he expects to receive.