The Mathews County Planning Commission voted once again, at its June 19 meeting, to recommend that the board of supervisors approve a zoning text amendment that would add piers to the property line setback requirements in the zoning ordinance.
At its May meeting, the board of supervisors discussed the commission’s previous recommendation and decided to send the measure back to the commission for further evaluation. Supervisor Neena Putt had objected to adding piers to the ordinance, saying it placed an undue burden on the property owner.
However, on June 19, planning and zoning director John Shaw reiterated the point he made last month, saying that, as structures, piers had always been subject to the permitting process, since the definition section of the ordinance requires setbacks for buildings and structures. From the time that the zoning ordinance was first adopted in 1987, pier permits have been handled in that fashion, said Shaw, with 327 zoning permits for piers issued in the past decade alone.
But when a Gwynn’s Island resident who owns a lot that’s split by Old Ferry Road recently questioned that, Shaw had to issue a permit exemption. The property owner had asserted that the word "pier" isn’t included in the actual setback ordinance, only in the definition section, and former County Attorney Richard Harfst issued the opinion that, if there’s a conflict between the ordinance and the definition, the ordinance takes precedence.
There’s a narrow strip of land between Old Ferry Road and Hills Bay, and Shaw said that placing a pier there could cause safety issues, especially if a vehicle pulls off the road to access the pier. He said that there are a number of other places in Mathews where this could be a problem, as well. In addition, not clarifying the matter would affect side yard setbacks, allowing property owners to place their piers right on the property line.