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County wrestles with shoreline hearing system

(June 19, 2015) Balancing lower fees and quicker decisions with the need for public comment and transparent decisions, the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday continued to push toward abolishing the Shoreline Commission.

Docks, piers, riprap, replacement bulkheads and soft shorelines all fall under the jurisdiction of seven-member commission, but Department of Environmental Services Director Bob Mitchell told the commissioners he thinks his staff can handle the regulatory duties itself.

“Most functions are internalized,” Mitchell said, “Mechanized even. Historically, all the problems have been neighbor disputes.”

If a neighbor believed a project under the Shoreline commission’s jurisdiction negatively affected his or her property, a hearing could be convened. Neighbors would also be alerted by mail if a major project were intended in their area.

“The power to make those decisions can go to one person,” Harold Scrimgeour, of Stockton, argued, “There’s no review process and we need a better appeal structure.”

The proposed appeal process crosses department lines in county government. As part of the proposed end of the commission, the environmental services department would conduct the initial review, and the Board of Zoning Appeals would hear appeals.

“Some people want the process. There has to be mediation,” Ginger Gillis, of Berlin, said.

An amendment offered by Commissioner Chip Bertino, and passed by the board, would still require mailed notification to adjoining property owners of applications for both major and minor projects.

Jen Cropper, a sitting member of the Shoreline Commission from Ocean City, wanted to ensure the commission could be reconvened if the substitute process doesn’t work.

“This offers economy and efficiency but we need a safety valve,” Bertino said.

Under the plan, the application fees for both major and minor projects would be halved to $125 and $75 respectively.

The commissioners voted to approve Bertino’s amendment concerning neighbor notification, and another amendment offered by County Attorney Sonny Bloxom to move relevant sections of code from Zoning to Natural Resources to facilitate the effort. They will vote on a “clean” version of the bill during the meeting scheduled for July 21.

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