Commercial Building Standards For Worcester In The Works

SNOW HILL – Architectural standards for commercial buildings in Worcester County are under development and will be considered by the Planning Commission this summer.

“Staff has them pretty much ready and we’ll be looking at draft architectural standards at our second meeting in June,” said Carolyn Cummins, chair of the planning commission.

“This is something that was recommended the county do as part of its Comprehensive Plan,” said Sandy Coyman, director of comprehensive planning. “It’s at the staff level now and we’re working up a draft for the planning commission to review.”

The draft of the standards is based on the voluntary plan for downtown Ocean City created by the Ocean City Development Corporation, and the standards created by La Plata, Md.  The standards will include a pattern book of characteristic architecture, illustrating elements like rooflines, window placement, and building materials.

Cummins said that the standards would also resemble the Route 113 corridor plan, already in place, and the Route 50 corridor plan.

“We want to have one plan, because there’s been overlaps,” Cummins said. “They just don’t have the same standards in them.”

The overarching requirements would be supplemented by road specific standards, such as coastal or small town styles, she said.

Architectural standards are important for the local hospitality industry, according to Coyman.

“Tourists tend to go to places because they’re different, not because they look like home,” Coyman said.

Many corporations use what is called ‘franchise architecture,’ or the same building design everywhere.

“It tends to make a new place look like every other place,” Coyman said. “In Worcester County we want to preserve our rural and coastal character.”

The new Bank of Ocean City building in Berlin is a good example of a new building constructed to be compatible with a historic town, planners say.

The standards will be sent on to the County Commissioners once the planning commission declared itself satisfied with the draft. The commissioners would likely hold public hearings on the document.

Coyman said it would be up to the commissioners to make the standards mandatory or just guidelines.

The county planning commission’s attempts to impose some architectural control over new buildings has been only sporadically successful. Developers continue to struggle with the commission’s concerns over new project architecture, as illustrated by a contentious discussion last week at a commission meeting, over the proposed West Ocean City Rite Aid pharmacy.

A second elevation for the 17,000-square-foot building, with modifications including a lighter brick, additional cornice line, and landscaping, came under consideration at the May meeting.

Continued criticism of the changes caused attorney Mark Cropper, representing the applicant, to remark that Worcester County does not yet have architectural review authority. The attorney called the debate an inappropriate discussion without set standards.

“The county needs to adopt specific architectural standards,” Cropper said. “Worcester County needs to do it, and once Worcester County does it I think this board has every right in the world to go through this analysis.”

Cummins said that county attorney Ed Hammond disagrees. The county code does give the planning commission some authority over building design. “It’s limited, would be what I would say,” said Cummins.

“You’re right, we need standards,” said Brooks Clayville, commission member.