Planners Nix West OC Sidewalk Waiver Request

SNOW HILL — In an unusual stalemate when two motions were made but neither was seconded, the Worcester County Planning Commission denied a waiver request for a sidewalk in West Ocean City by default.

While such waivers have been somewhat common in the past, there was a belief amongst some on the commission that West Ocean City is overdue for sidewalks and that a precedent should be set where businesses that are supposed to construct sidewalks under the county design guidelines be required to do so.

The request to waive the sidewalk, which would extend down part of Keyser Point Road from its intersection with Route 50, was made by attorney Hugh Cropper on behalf of Comdent, Inc.

Cropper argued that waiving the need for a sidewalk was common sense as it would not be connected to anything else and would represent a burden for his client.

“It’s just not fair and he can’t afford it,” said Cropper.

Commissioner Wayne Hartman reminded Cropper that “financial hardship” was not justification for failing to meet the county’s design guidelines.

That was true, admitted Cropper, but he stood by his point that it wasn’t a fair requirement.

“If I built this thing new from scratch, I wouldn’t have to do the design guidelines,” he said.

Cropper pointed to the county’s new flagship liquor store, which was constructed this spring and was not held to the guidelines. Because his client is making a significant addition to an existing structure, the property will be held to those guidelines.

Besides not being fair, Cropper argued that requiring a sidewalk at the location was pointless.

“It connects to nowhere. I also suggest to you, if you’ve been down Keyser Point Road recently, I don’t think that I’m going to live long enough to see a sidewalk down Keyser Point Road on that side of the road,” he said.

That prediction could be hasty, according to County Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

“I’ve had some meetings with State Highway about it and State Highway views that there is a definitive need for sidewalks in West Ocean City in general,” he said. “And we’ve had this conversation with State Highway for a long time.”

Tudor added that State Highway representatives will be meeting with the County Commissioners next week to discuss sidewalks in Worcester. That doesn’t mean that they will be popping up all over Keyser Point Road, clarified Tudor, but that West Ocean City could see some additions in the near future.

“They’re realizing that you’ve got to start somewhere, too,” he said. “You’ve got to connect up the pieces where you can.”

That was why the Planning Commission should stick to the design guidelines, asserted Hartman.

“I just feel that if we waive it now then we’re going to be waiving it again later and I think we need to start being consistent with the requirement,” he said.

The rest of the planning commission remained divided. Hartman made a motion to deny the waiver, which did not receive a second and thus did not go to vote. Commissioner Brooks Clayville made a counter-motion to approve the waiver, saying that in a “perfect world” all businesses that fall under the design guidelines should have to build sidewalks when required. However, with so many sidewalks waived in the past and with the current requested sidewalk not connecting to anything, Clayville motioned the waiver be granted.

The motion failed to draw a second and also died before the commission could vote. With the members in a standoff, the waiver request automatically failed and the sidewalk will have to be constructed.

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