SNOW HILL -- Clear battle lines emerged yesterday as the Worcester County Commission began preliminary discussion of amendments to a hotly debated "buffer zone" law for waterfront property owners.
Two sharply different proposals were offered to the commission, adding fuel to a public debate that began Aug. 2 when The Sun published a column by Tom Horton criticizing developer and hotel operator Kenny Baker, who has cleared vegetation on waterfront property where he is building a house on Trappe Creek.
The two proposals -- one to weaken existing shorefront protection and one to strengthen it -- were not voted on BTC yesterday. Instead, the commission decided to continue the discussion of the buffer law Oct. 22.
The jovial, brisk tone of the commission meeting quickly became politically charged when a report by planning and zoning officials who had inspected Baker's property Aug. 6 was taken up shortly before lunch.
"We've had a fury of letters and conversations," said commission Chairman Jim Barrett. "Mr. Baker has private property. He has rights like every other property owner. We do not do things by what we read in the paper; that's not the way this county works."
Instead, Barrett said, the commission had asked its zoning officials to inspect the property. Planning director Harold W. Morris and two other zoning officials presented the board with a one-page report based on their inspection of the Baker property, where a house is under construction.
They found that tree branches had been removed recently, and some trees had been taken out. The report noted "evidence of a recent herbicidal application to some of the existing vegetation."
But such removal did not constitute a violation, Morris told the commission. The law allows property owners to submit a "planting plan" to replace shoreline vegetation. Baker told the zoning officials he would submit such a plan.
"The staff has determined that there is currently not a citable violation," the report said. When Baker applies for a certificate of occupancy for the new house, the report said, it will not be granted until his planting plan has been approved.
Baker, who sat through the daylong meeting, declined to discuss the issue.
After a lunch break, the commission returned and took up the larger issue of the buffer law itself. Existing county law requires a shoreline protection setback and buffer along all tidal waters of the county's coastal bays. The setback, which must extend 50 feet from the waterline, is described as "indigenous vegetation, including trees, shrubs and grasses" that are not to be mowed.
An 10-member task force appointed by the commission earlier this year and headed by Baker had studied the law, and their recommendations were submitted as a proposed amendment by Commissioners Robert L. Cowger Jr., Granville D. Trimper and James L. Purnell.
The proposal, which included a letter from Baker dated Aug. 2 expressing the conviction that "science will prevail over idle unproved statements," would allow turf sod to be used in place of waterfront vegetation and would reduce the waterfront buffer zone to 25 feet instead of the current 50.
The second proposal heard by the commission yesterday was offered by Commissioner Jeanne Lynch. Her plan would establish four kinds of buffer zones and increase the setback to 100 feet.
Pub Date: 8/14/96