Friday, March 20–Route 50 Service Road Changes Sought

SNOW HILL – If the Route 50 service road design is not changed, it might never happen, a local land use lawyer told the County Commissioners this week, since some of the development to pay for it is impossible with the current alignment.

Attorney Mark Cropper went before the County Commissioners this week to present a proposal on realigning the design of the unbuilt road to allow several area property owners he represents to develop their commercial sites.

Fees from those developers would fund the road, he said. If those landowners cannot develop their properties, there will be no road funding.

With the current alignment of the road essentially parallel to Route 50, some properties crossed by the road are cut in half and rendered unsuitable for development, according to Cropper. On one parcel, the road goes right through the only uplands on the property, which prevents installation of an onsite sewer system.

“If you can’t get sewer, you can’t develop your property,” Cropper said.

Three developers attempted to create development plans on properties crossed by the service road, but realized that the road made it impossible to build, according to Cropper.

Environmental impacts should not be much more than with the current alignment, he said, with wetland impacts increasing from .49 acres to .58 acres, and buffer impacts increasing from .68 acres to 1.01 acres.

Cropper could not say how the area would be affected by traffic on the service road, which depends on what is developed there.           

No decisions were made on the realignment Tuesday.

Cropper still has to meet with the Board of Education over concerns on the service road, which would run from Holly Grove Rd. to Seahawk Rd., home to Stephen Decatur High and Middle schools.

The school board staff has some questions over bus access to schools when traffic on Seahawk Rd. increases after the service road is built.

A change in road alignment would be a positive, according to Cropper.

“You will have property owners willing to agree to an alignment you the commissioners will not have to debate with them,” Cropper said.

“My concern is getting the traffic into Ocean City,” said Commission President Louise Gulyas. “The lights will hold up the traffic and make it much slower.”

The commissioners have said in the past that they do not support more lights on Route 50, she said.

“We want as few as possible,” Cropper said.

The Board of Education buses do need a controlled signal to get onto Route 50, Cropper said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a bus driver, said he makes right turns at the dangerous Routes 113 and 12 intersection every day without benefit of a traffic signal.

The county has already had a public hearing on the service road alignment, Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

“We’ve gone through all the formalities. It’s decided,” Boggs said. “The issues are the same. The public hearing was held…it seems to me it’s more of a profitability issue.”

Many affected property owners were unaware of previous meetings and unable to participate, Cropper said. The impacts of the road only became clear when owners tried to develop their land.

The money issue affects those who want to develop their land and the county, which wants to build a service road without paying out of pocket for it, Cropper explained.

“It affects the county and the property owners together,” he said. “It’s not just one sided.”

It is the responsibility of property owners to take advantage of public hearings, Boggs said.

Some of the road changes came after the fact, Cropper said. The service road is still in the planning stages and could be changed, he continued.

“Nobody really made a mistake here,” said Commissioner Bud Church. “If the developers don’t pay for it, the county won’t pay for it, and it won’t be developed.”

Gulyas asked if the Worcester County Planning Commission had looked at the realignment. It has not, Cropper said.

The county also needs to hear from the school board and hold a public hearing on the change sought by the service road area developers, Gulyas said. Tuesday was the first time the commissioners had seen the proposal.

“We’ll take your plan under advisement and get back to you,” said Gulyas.