SNOW HILL – More national chain big box stores will be coming to the eastern end of Route 50 to join Wal-Mart and Home Depot, but it is unknown which stores will take up residence at the Ocean Landing II commercial development.
“The largest building will likely be anchored by two, perhaps three, big box stores,” said Richard Eisenberg, representing Ocean Landing II developer Allen Skolnick.
Eisenberg said that the stores could be similar to ones along Route 13 in Salisbury, a commercial hub for the region. Several big box businesses located on that strip have expressed an interest in space at Ocean Landing II, he said, but Eisenberg would not confirm which stores had been in contact.
Developers expect a mix of local stores with national chains to occupy the main buildings. Out-parcel pad sites could host a wide variety of uses, including restaurants.
After dropping from public view during years of wrangling over interconnecting sewer issues, the Ocean Landing II development will now proceed on its own.
“After four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to bring it to fruition, everyone threw their hands up and said, this is impossible,” said Mark Cropper, attorney for the project, describing attempts to connect the commercial project to the Riddle Farm water and wastewater system across Route 50. “It was ludicrous.”
“We have been working for two years now to refine this plan,” Eisenberg said.
Between the cost and the engineering, the connection would not work, said Cropper, and Skolnick finally decided to go back to on-property utilities.
The commercial development, planned for property west of the Wal-Mart and Home Depot big box stores, achieved site plan approval last week.
An earlier approval for the development, from August 2003, was allowed to expire last year when the expanded width of the planned service road changed the site plan enough to require a new review by the Worcester County Planning Commission.
Ocean Landing II representatives and the Worcester County Planning Commission debated site plan conditions for three and a half hours last Thursday afternoon before the commission voted to approve the site plan with certain conditions and amendments.
Parking must be included behind the main building to meet parking space requirements, despite the public’s inclination for front-of-store parking. Employees also prefer to park in front, Eisenberg said.
Rear access to each store has been included in the plans.
Eisenberg said he did not envision the rear parking lot, which adds more spaces to the total parking area than required, seeing much use outside the holiday shopping season.
Carolyn Cummins, chair of the Planning Commission, thought the rear parking might not be necessary.
“Get rid of the parking in the back,” Planning Commission member Jeannie Lynch agreed.
The project would need a parking reduction through the county Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) or through a Planned Commercial Development (PCD) designation. The BZA can offer a 20-percent reduction, while a PCD is allowed up to a 50-percent cut in parking space.
Eisenberg said the time and costs of pursuing a PCD is prohibitive and that he would rather pursue the BZA option.
“That’s better than losing this slot for consideration and losing several more months on revisions,” he said.
The front elevation of the building is the same, without the Giant grocery that pulled out of the project a few years ago.
“Obviously, some of the facades for the big box stores are very specialized,” said Eisenberg.
National chain tenants will likely want to modify the façade, which would be reviewed during the technical review process.
“I don’t personally see it that way,” said Cummins. “If this is what you’re showing us for elevations, then this is what we expect to see.”
Cropper concurred with Cummins.
“My position is, this is it,” he said, adding that if a national big box store wanted a change, the commission would have to approve it.
Consumers will access Ocean Landing II through a traffic light on Route 50, shortly after the Route 589 intersection, and roughly half a mile before the traffic light at the Home Depot-Wal-Mart entrance.
Traffic studies show that the three lights will actually improve traffic movement.
“The three lights are synchronized to keep the traffic flowing,” said Sonny Bloxom, county attorney, recalling the original presentation of the traffic study five years ago when he served as a County Commissioner.
“I didn’t believe it ‘til I saw it,” Cropper said.
“In the wintertime, traffic backs up waiting for that left hand turn lane signal, backs up past the fruit stand,” said Lynch of traffic turning from Route 589 onto Route 50. “It’s dangerous.”
“This actually improves that situation,” said Cummins. “Those cars should move quicker coming from 589 to 50.”
“It gets the traffic off Route 50 more quickly,” Cropper said.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Lynch.
The service road will also be available, Eisenberg said.
“There’ll be a break up of traffic and people will have choices,” he said. “We’re obligated to wind up being the first leg of the service road connecting to Home Depot and Home Depot connects to Wal-Mart.”
Ocean Landing II’s representatives resisted a request from Lynch to provide toilet facilities separate from the in-store restrooms.
“We need to have a spot where people can sit, have a soda or something and access toilet facilities,” Lynch said.
Tenants want restrooms inside their stores, Eisenberg said.
“Let us break new ground…this is a destination area, It’s a resort area. You’ve got people coming in from a long drive,” said Lynch.
Cropper argued that each store will have restrooms and outside facilities would be used for undesirable purposes, such as drug use.
“The benefit you’re talking about is overwhelmed by security and health issues,” Eisenberg said.
If restrooms are restricted to the commercial spaces, Lynch said, then they must be user friendly.
“Tenants are to provide people access at the entrance of the store. Easily accessible, that’s the key,” she said.
The developers were also reluctant to include a bike path on the north side of the property.
A bike path in the setback and drainage area should wait until the out parcels are developed, said Eisenberg, which will not be until after the main buildings are developed.
“You’re basically asking us to do something, have it completely wrecked, and redo it,” Eisenberg said.
“I’d like it sooner rather than later,” Lynch said.
The Route 50 corridor transportation plan calls for the first 100 feet of a bordering property to be planted. The bike path could be incorporated into that unbuildable area, said Zoning Administrator Kelly Henry.
The Planning Commission also gave a favorable recommendation to amending the Worcester County Water and Sewer Plan to reflect onsite water and wastewater.