SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council sent the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance back down to the Wicomico County Planning and Zoning Commission this week. While the commission had attached a favorable recommendation to the ordinance, members of the council pointed out that the commissioners never saw a final product on the document and had made their ruling based on the bullet points.

The city’s Critical Areas Ordinance is updated every four to six years, according to County Planning and Zoning Technical Services and Environmental Planner Jimmy Sharp. This new ordinance is similar in most aspects to the previous one. However, there have been a few additions and the design of the ordinance has changed due to a new model from the state.

“We’re following the new format laid out by the state,” Sharp told the council.
Besides the new formatting, new areas have been added to the ordinance.

“Some new sections have been added such as the River Walk section which was not in the last ordinance at all,” he said.  

Overall, the Critical Areas Ordinance, which Sharp said was adopted by the city in 1989, is set up to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Salisbury with guidelines and restrictions on development. However, because much of the area was developed prior to adopting the original ordinance, Sharp explained that most parts of the city have a lot of flexibility with the guidelines.

With this most current ordinance, however, the council underlined the fact that the Planning and Zoning Commission had only received a summary and not the actual document.

“It’s been before the planning commission in a summary form with the various issues and topics identified,” said Planning and Zoning Director Jack Lennox.

Councilmember Laura Mitchell took that approval with a grain of salt, however.

“The Planning and Zoning Commission approved this with only a summary,” she said. “They asked several times, as I understand, to see the ordinance but they’ve never seen the ordinance and it’s being brought to us saying Planning and Zoning has approved this. But they haven’t even seen it. So I’m a little troubled by the representation that it’s been approved by them when they haven’t gotten to see it.”

Reviewing the entire ordinance, she added, is the commission’s responsibility.
“I think that’s their function and they should have that opportunity,” she said.

Sharp told the council that it was acceptable to send the ordinance back down. However, he explained that state law overrides municipal regulations with critical areas.

“As soon as the state law changes, no matter what our ordinance reads here, as soon as the state law changes that is what we have to implement,” he said.

Sharp said that Salisbury’s ordinance is more for public education than to set guidelines.

“All this is doing, in my opinion, is allowing the public to see exactly what our rules and regulations are,” he said.

Maryland Department of Planning Regional Director Tracey Gordy agreed.

“So the model ordinance that you get you really cannot change very much,” she said. “All you can do is to add in particulars, unique circumstances to your community such as the River Walk.”

Still, the council agreed to handle the ordinance in the traditional matter and allow the Planning and Zoning Commission to review the plan in its entirety before making a recommendation.