SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Planning Commission made a stab at adding sidewalks to West Ocean City properties along Route 50 when it approved the Rite Aid site plan this week.
The pharmacy site plan was approved on its third time before the Planning Commission after lengthy discussions on landscaping and sidewalks.
The plan had changed little other than the addition of more landscaping since the commission last saw it in May.
Planning Commission member Costen Gladding would not let the sidewalk issue go, despite avowals by project planners earlier in the process that they could not fit a sidewalk on the site.
County planners have been throwing around the idea of a sidewalk bordering Route 50 to provide a safe place to walk for increasing numbers of pedestrians, but they have not taken any decisive action.
Gladding’s new request was met with skepticism by the Rite Aid team.
“It just was not even practical. You’d need retaining walls and things of that nature,” said Mark Cropper, attorney for the applicant.
There is a significant drop in slope between Route 50 and the site, according to Cropper.
Gladding said the site had no room because the building was pushed up to the front. Other members of the commission concurred.
“I have contended all along you’re trying to do too big a building on this site,” said Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins.
“Efficient use of land” does come under the Planning Commission’s site plan review authority confirmed Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of Development Review and Permitting.
Cropper said there had been several meetings with staff before sending the plan on to the commission for review.
“This site has been massaged very, very thoroughly to get the result we have now,” Cropper said.
There are no sidewalks on Route 50, from Easton to Ocean City, said Jeff Thaler, of Atlantic Coast Development.
There is a sidewalk in front of White Marlin Mall which is effective and well used, said Gladding.
However, “it didn’t impact the development of the site,” said Cropper.
Wimbrow said that the Worcester County Commissioners had recently listed sidewalks along Route 50 as one of their transit priorities.
The commissioners are “absolutely, positively, unequivocally,” seeking sidewalks in West Ocean City, said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.
Trying to incorporate sidewalks into the Rite Aid site would destroy the site plan, Cropper contended. Parking and other aspects of the plan would be affected.
“Nobody thinks of downsizing the building,” said Wimbrow.
According to Janet Lilley, county planning technician, the commission has the right to enforce safety requirements in getting to and from a site.
“I realize that’s in the code,” said Cropper.
Wimbrow advised, “I think you have to consider it in light of the whole area.”
Doug Slingerland, the newest member of the Planning Commission, expressed concern that requiring a single developer to make this effort would be unfair and that adding sidewalks piecemeal would be worse than having none at all.
When the Wal-Mart on Route 50 was built, a portion of service road was included at the behest of the Planning Commission, Wimbrow said. The road leads nowhere at the moment, but the rest of the service road is in the works.
“There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic. You’re in peril every time you drive you’re going to hit a pedestrian,” said Cummins.
Cropper said it would not be fair to ask one developer to accommodate all the traffic flow for West Ocean City.
Issues still remained after the Rite Aid team was brought around to the need for a sidewalk on the property.
“We can put a meandering sidewalk through [the landscaping],” said Thaler. “It’s going to have a six-foot drop.”
Cropper suggested a wooden walkway, built up to be level with Route 50.
“That’s the only way I can think to do it without significant retaining walls and things of that nature,” said Cropper.
Steps built down the slope to reach the sidewalk are not permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tudor said.
The Rite Aid contingent finally agreed to a meandering sidewalk though the landscape strip, but made no promises about access at the property edges.
The first motion, to approve the plan, including a sidewalk in the Route 50 landscaping strip, with adequate access at either end, did not receive a second.
The next motion requiring the addition of a sidewalk but leaving out the access at either end was unanimously approved.
The proposed store is located on the south side of Route 50 at the corner of Keyser Point Road and is adjacent to the former Avalon Market.