New Worship Center Plans Move Forward

SNOW HILL — Plans for a new Ocean City Worship Center received a favorable recommendation last Thursday from the Worcester County Planning Commission.

Though unable to convince the commission that a place of worship shouldn’t have to meet commercial standards, representatives from the center did manage to get a number of restrictions waived.

Attorney Mark Cropper appeared in front of the board to speak for the center. He argued that the new commercial regulations in place should not apply to the proposed 47,164-square-foot worship center, which will eventually be located south of Route 50 and east of Seahawk Rd.

“It shouldn’t even be an issue,” Cropper told the commission. “It’s a church. They don’t sell anything.”

Cropper asserted that nothing about the new building would be commercial, and thus, should not be susceptible to the restrictions that follow commercial development, including things like inter-partial connectors and sidewalks with benches, among others.

While Cropper was adamant about his interpretation of the code, county attorney Sonny Bloxom felt otherwise.

“It’s clear the design guidelines apply in this case,” he said.

Bloxom did not contest Cropper’s point that the church would not sell anything. However, he did point out that it was a “large building, high traffic, very visible” and therefore fit perfectly into the parameters of the code.

“It does apply, legally,” he concluded.

Commission President Brooks Clayville also felt that the commercial standards applied to the center. He did, though, acknowledge that there was a big difference between a shopping center and a place of worship. Additionally, Bloxom mentioned that the center was in a unique position.

“I think this is the first church to come up under this [new regulations],” he said.

Under the circumstances, Clayville suggested that, instead of agreeing that all commercial regulations shouldn’t apply to churches, some of the restrictions could be waived on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s not really public use,” said Clayville of the center.

While he admitted that, by the strictest terms the building would be used by the public and open to anyone, it would not attract the kind of constant in-and-out attention that something like a Wal-Mart or shopping mall might. He also noted that the building would not be easily visible from Route 50.

The commission agreed to waive the need for an inter-partial connecter and to defer the building of a section of sidewalk at the location until a county service road is completed sometime in the future.

Commissioner Jeanne Lynch called the project to build the new center “ambitious” and expressed a worry that the plans were coming in too soon and would simply float for years.

“I would prefer not to have final plans out there for that long,” she said.

“This is going to be a long-term project,” admitted Troy Purnell, a local developer and a member of the worship center.

However, Purnell explained that, even if new laws came out between the approval of the plan and groundbreaking on the location, the additions could be incorporated into the final plan. The commission agreed that there was no reason to hold up green-lighting the proposal and chose to give it a favorable recommendation with the waivers and deferrals agreed upon.