What’s happening in West Ocean City these days has been brewing for years and the future of the area fascinates me as the current commercial growth boom along Route 50 will likely continue to accelerate.
More corporate hotels along Route 50 are a certainty as are more national chain restaurants. The stretch from Herring Creek to Ocean City will soon have no open space as new commercial growth dominates and existing properties opt to redevelop to stay competitive and in operation.
Back in 1999, the future growth of West Ocean City from Herring Creek to the Route 50 Bridge and from the creek east to Seahawk Road was discussed at length during “Worcester 2000” brainstorming session. Readers may recall that was a public-private effort geared at developing wisely and essentially trying to adhere to “smart growth” principles that were in vogue at that time. It was about developing the proper way in the appropriate areas. Residents and elected officials cautioned development needed to be monitored intensely, or project by project, before Route 50 became another Ritchie Highway. Speaker after speaker waxed at public visioning meetings about how important it was to retain the rural character of the area west of Herring Creek with the assumption the parcels closer to Ocean City would eventually be developed entirely.
Fifteen years later, it’s obvious Route 50 east to Ocean City has become the Ritchie Highway that was feared. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Growing immediately around the resort is appropriate and most tourism destinations are geographically surrounded by diverse commercial operations to support the tourism trade and the year-round communities. It’s logical. It’s the area west of Herring Creek that will likely become the major area of concern as commercial growth extends further away from the island.
There are two long-time local elected officials who have compiled impressive winning streaks on the election front.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan has never lost an election dating back to when he was first elected in 1985 as a councilman. He has been mayor of Ocean City since 2006 and never been opposed. He’s largely thought of as unbeatable in Ocean City based on his experience and his unmatched knowledge of city operations, which has only grown during two recent stints as acting city manager.
Equally impressive is the record of Sen. Jim Mathias, who won an Ocean City Council seat back in 1990 in his first attempt and then won a hotly contested mayoral race in 1996 before being appointed delegate in 2006 after the death of Bennett Bozman. He then defended his appointment as delegate in a close election and then was successful in moving up to senator four years later after Lowell Stoltzfus retired. The registered Democrat won re-election in 2014 in a nail-biter, which all of his state seat contests have been thus far.
Mathias touched on that track record this week.
“Clearly, it’s the one-on-one and it’s the relationships that you’ve built along the way, but I will say, people come up to me and say how much they enjoy the fact that I have always stayed on the high road. We love your commercials and we love knowing you … It’s the connection that you have with people, and I vote what’s best for the district in every way. When I go to work, I remember who I go to work for, and I know who I take to work with me, and that’s the people of this district. … This is my fire, this is me. I heard it, I feel it and I live it, and I’m asking and thanking people for allowing me that opportunity because we have more work to do.”
It was a big week for the Town of Berlin where the culmination of months of private and some public dealings resulted in two major announcements.
It appears the Dollar General will now be finding a new home near the Route 113 intersection with Bay Street. I’m not convinced that’s a better location from a business standpoint for the DG brand, but it surely comes with a lot less traffic concerns than the previously desired location at Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard. This deal comes with the assumption that the current litigation between the town and the DG developer will be dropped over the other site.
With DG planning to move out of its current home in the Food Lion shopping center, another sizable vacancy will hit that complex, which has yet to fill the Department of Liquor Control’s former home. However, word is the Food Lion is interested in expanding its store into the space currently occupied by the DG.
The other big Berlin news was word that the town has found through the due diligence process no reason not to move ahead with the purchase of the vast property formerly home to the Tyson poultry plant. The town will buy the property for $2.5 million, most likely through a bond, early next year and as part of the deal has received six acres of land on Flower Street that will likely be home to a new community center. With the property purchase now a certainty, the town’s focus turns to what to do with the large parcel of property. The details are unclear at this point, but all indications are developing some sort of open space recreation facility, featuring a skate park and sports fields, is the likely course of action.