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Worcester zoning board signs off on Atlantic General anniversary plans

Members of the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals recently approved a request from Atlantic General Hospital to hold the facility’s 31st anniversary celebration next month at a private local home.

AGH building

Atlantic General Hospital
File photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Members of the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals recently approved plans for Atlantic General Hospital’s annual anniversary celebration.

The board unanimously April 11 to approve a special exception that will allow the hospital to host its 31st anniversary celebration on May 9 at the home of George and Emily Tunis in Martha’s Landing.

“This is our largest fundraiser of the year,” Emily Tunis said. “This event brings anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 for the foundation which goes directly to the hospital to support operations and equipment and education programs that helps enhance the healthcare and accessibility of healthcare to our local community.”

Tunis and attorney Kristina Watkowski approached the board last week seeking a special exception for a transient use to allow a special event in the R-3 multifamily district. They explained when the tent would be set up, how neighbors had been notified and whether traffic would be an issue. Tunis said there was no reason there should be cars parked on Old Bridge Road because attendees were parking at the park and ride lot and taking a shuttle to the event.

When asked what would happen if a significant storm arrived on the day of the event, Tunis said there was no rain date planned. It was pointed out that the fire marshal would be reviewing event plans and could weigh in if there was inclement weather.

While the board this month granted the special exception for AGH, next month it’s set to review a special exception request from TidalHealth for its annual fundraiser, which is planned for property owned by Kevin Myers. While both events have been held locally for years, this is the first time they’ve been required to seek a special exception from the board of zoning appeals. Hugh Cropper, Myers’ attorney, questioned the need for the additional step in the event planning process, particularly since the transient use distinction has been typically used for temporary but continuous uses, such as handicap ramps. Cropper believes the board of zoning appeals should have some discretion when it comes to special events for nonprofits.

“Regarding public policy, but I can tell you as the former chairman of the board of AGH, and my wife being on the development committee for many, many years, it is virtually impossible to find a suitable location for these events in Worcester County,” he wrote in an email to Jennifer Keener, the county’s director of development review and permitting. “Kevin Myers has hosted several of these events, apparently without approvals over the past years, and they have all been successful. There has never been a complaint. I stand to be corrected, but I have seen most, if not all, of the county commissioners, state delegates, senators, etc. at all of these events.”

According to Keener, the transient use designation applies to a “use which does not otherwise conform to district regulations.” She said in her response to Cropper that the board of appeals has in the past approved similar events planned for properties that didn’t have commercial zoning. She noted that her department also issues special event permits for outdoor transient events such as bike week and fishing tournaments.

When contacted this week, county staff said the special event process was being followed the way it should be. While some events might have been missed in the past, when the use of land is not consistent with its zoning, that is considered a transient use which needs special exception approval. With the board of zoning appeals considering the request, neighbors and other members of the public have the opportunity to share any concerns they might have with what is proposed.

“The county permitting departments have been implementing permitting workflow to more efficiently issue permits and keep things from falling through the cracks,” Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said. “In this process, it was determined transient uses, like nonprofit fundraisers, have been getting approval from the liquor licensing staff but not the zoning staff. While a fundraiser for a hospital is a positive thing for the community, in our code it does require a special exception from the board of zoning appeals due to it not being consistent with our residential zoning districts. It should have been enforced in the past and can always be changed in the future.”

This story appears in the April 25, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.