St. Mary's County commissioners

SUBMITTED PHOTO

The board of St. Mary’s County commissioners are, in front from left, Todd Morgan (R), President Randy Guy (R), and in back from left, Eric Colvin (R), John O’Connor (R) and Mike Hewitt (R).

After the owners of a restaurant and motel in Ridge realized they needed to expand sewer capacity before opening its doors later this year, an ordinance regarding sewage removal systems was proposed to the county commissioners.

The St. Mary’s department of land use and growth management requested a public hearing regarding the ordinance, which would allow privately owned minor utilities to serve existing businesses under some conditions.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bill Hunt, the director of the department, said the specific reason for the ordinance is to allow an onsite sewage disposal system to be constructed on a different site from where the sewage is produced to remedy a failed onsite sewage disposal system for nonresidential properties.

The property where the business is located and the property where the offsite minor utility is constructed must be under the same ownership, Hunt said.

New businesses could not use privately owned offsite utilities, and privately owned offsite utilities could not be used for existing or new residential uses.

The proposed ordinance was provided by the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development and has been reviewed and commented on by the health department and reviewed by the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission.

Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) asked who would be responsible for maintenance of these systems, with Hunt responding that “the health department is responsible for ensuring the sewage disposal systems function properly.”

Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) applauded the idea, claiming that he thinks “this is a very good thing for the county, good for environmental concerns and failing septics” as it allows “old properties to be able to be reinvigorated.”

Commissioner John O’Connor (R) asked Hunt from where the request originated.

“It came to me from the department of economic development, in particular the Scheible’s property was the impetus to try to get this … the expectation is that since it’s not tailored explicitly to one property that there may be other uses that would avail themselves with this particular ordinance,” Hunt said.

Scheible’s Restaurant and Motel had been a south county fixture since its construction in 1946, but has recently changed hands, and gone unpatronized since about 2015.

Purchased last May by Peggy Binzel with Smith Creek Marine LLC, the restaurant, motel and marina property is being rebranded as Pier450, a destination retreat.

The eight-room motel, dubbed “The Quarters at Pier450,” is now open but the restaurant is not scheduled to open until the spring or summer of this year.

O’Connor inquired about the fiscal impact this ordinance would have on the county and the health department since “every year” commissioners “hear from the health department that they can’t keep up with the workload that they already have,” he said.

Hunt said the ordinance has been discussed with the health department and the idea of adding additional cost was never brought up by them.

The commissioner suggested to “carve out” an exemption for the Ridge waterfront property, since the request is currently just for one business, so that commissioners “can see how it works and evaluate it and go ahead and expand it on a case-by-case basis,” rather than have a blanket ordinance.

O’Connor expressed further concerns with the cost of installing the sewage removal systems and the impact construction would have on roadways.

“I just want to make sure there are no unfunded mandates for the county with this,” he said.

Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) said he doesn’t see why the county shouldn’t have an ordinance to address the issue, while Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said he has concerns with how the sewage removal systems may cause problems between neighbors.

In a 3-2 vote, with O’Connor and Morgan voting against, the commissioners authorized the department of land use and growth management to schedule a public hearing regarding the amendment to the comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, at 9:30 a.m. in Leonardtown at the Chesapeake Building.

Twitter: @MadisonEntNews

Twitter: @MadisonEntNews