SNOW HILL — A requested change to zoning for an Ocean Pines property from agricultural to commercial received a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission last week. The ruling was hard won, however, with the usually unanimous commission split 4-3 on the vote.
First appearing before the commissioners in April, the petition for property re-zoning an A-1 Ocean Pines’ lot located near Route 589 was delayed to give the body time to mull over the case. At the time, attorney Hugh Cropper, representing property owner Burbage/Melson Inc., argued that a re-zoning was justified because the current agricultural designation was a mistake.
Additionally, he asserted that the neighborhood around the property had changed, mainly due to the inclusion of slots at Casino at Ocean Downs.
In response to the first part of Cropper’s argument, the commission determined that no mistake had been made in granting the property an agricultural designation, though Commissioner Mike Diffendal did argue that it was a possibility.
He noted that the County Commissioners responsible for the designation had gone against the recommendation of their Planning Commission and that the Burbage property was the only agricultural zoned lot in the area.
However, while it may not have been the most popular decision, Commissioner Wayne Hartman explained that just because the Planning Commission might not like the verdict that doesn’t mean it was wrong.
“We don’t agree with their thinking,” he said. “But it’s not a mistake.”
“You can’t second guess the County Commission,” agreed County Attorney Sonny Bloxom.
Commission Chair Marlene Ott added that in her personal opinion, no mistake was made.
The second part of Cropper’s case received more support.
Commissioner Costen Gladding agreed that the recent addition of slot machines at Ocean Downs represented a noticeable shift in the flavor of the neighborhood surrounding the Burbage property.
“Whenever you put in a slots facility like that, it’s a change in Worcester County,” he said.
Commissioners Betty Smith, Richard Wells and Diffendal echoed Gladding’s position.
While the majority of commissioners felt that the neighborhood had changed, not all were convinced.
“So was there a change in the neighborhood?” asked Hartman. “No.”
Commissioner Brooks Clayville opined that the addition of slots to Ocean Downs last year was a “similar, if intensified use” compared to what the casino was already doing and therefore did not alter anything.
“I don’t agree that there’s been a change of neighborhood,” he stated.
Ott also had trouble accepting that adding slots to a casino transformed the area to a degree that previously A-1 zoned property should be made commercial and voiced concerns that overly developing the neighborhood could stress traffic on the already overloaded Rt. 589.
Additionally, Ott pointed out that once the property achieved a C-2 rating, it could be used for any commercial development, not just the currently proposed medical complex that was a big selling point of Cropper’s petition.
“There’s no guarantee that would happen,” she said.
Hartman chimed in with his own fears. He guessed that re-zoning the lot to C-2 could be detrimental to surrounding properties since the neighborhood already contains several commercial vacancies.
“I actually think it would hurt county property value,” he said.
The majority of the Planning Commission wasn’t swayed. Members held to the 4-3 vote giving the application a favorable recommendation on the basis of a change of neighborhood due to Ocean Downs receiving slots. The case will have to come before the County Commission this month for a final decision.