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News

Homeowners memorandum challenges rezoning approval

1/10/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

OCEAN PINES — Five Ocean Pines property owners filed a petitioner’s memorandum in the Worcester County Circuit Court on Jan. 2 to ask for a judicial review of the basis behind the Worcester County Commissioners’ 4 to 3 vote in September to approve reclassifying farmland so it could be used for commercial purposes by local developers.

 Jack Burbage of the Burbage Group owns the 30-acre property, which is located just south of Ocean Pines off Route 589.

The petitioners are contending in the memorandum that the county commissioners incorrectly found that there has been a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood where the property is located and also found, incorrectly, that the rezoning is compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan. The group had filed a lawsuit on the matter in October 2012 after the commissioners voted 4-3 the previous month to approve Burbage’s rezoning request.

Commissioners Madison Bunting, Bud Church, Merrill Lockfaw and James Purnell voted in favor and Commissioners Judy Boggs, Louise Gulyas and Virgil Shockley voted in opposition.

The petitioners said in the memorandum, “Because a rezoning applicant’s burden is onerous, it must present ‘strong evidence’ of the requisite substantial change in the character of the neighborhood since the last comprehensive rezoning in order to obtain a piecemeal rezoning of just one or a few parcels.”

Petitioners Walter and Pamela Stansell, Jeanne Lynch, Carole Schauer and Paul Bredehorst asked for a judicial review of what they called a “piecemeal rezoning of property for commercial use in the neighborhood where they reside.”

In the petition, the homeowners argued that the county commissioners “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in rezoning Burbage’s property and had incorrectly found that there had been a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood.  

The homeowners said the commissioners had disregarded their own policy on the types of criteria required to justify a rezoning, which are a change in the neighborhood or a mistake in the zoning. They also expressed skepticism about whether additional commercial development in the area was needed and whether the stated intention for the property was accurate.

According to the court document, the Burbage Group offered no evidence that there is an unmet demand or need for additional commercial development in or near Ocean Pines.

“Instead, they presented officers of Atlantic General Hospital, who opined that the property could possibly someday become the site of auxiliary facilities operated by that institution, but did not state or suggest it planned to purchase or develop the property for that purpose,” the petitioners argued.

The document said that hospital officials who spoke to the commissioners on behalf of the property owners did not dispute other testimony that Atlantic General Hospital’s Strategic Plan for 2011-15 made no mention of expanding its facilities or services in the Ocean Pines neighborhood.

The Burbage Group has 30 days to file a response to the memorandum.

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