BERLIN – Kingsnakes. Bald eagles. Wood ducks. Swans. Deer. Quail.
They’re among the seemingly endless variety of wildlife seen along Ayres Creek any given day. Residents of the area are worried that could change with the construction of a 311-site rental campground on the former Pine Shore Golf property on Route 611.
“It’s going to have a severe impact on the Ayres Creek habitat,” local resident Joan Jenkins said.
She would know. Jenkins lives on Ayres Creek, next door to the defunct golf course. A narrow gut of water is all that separates her property from the shoreline that preliminary plans show as the campground’s area for “water dependent activities.”
Jenkins and several of her neighbors are working together to share news of the campground’s proposed redevelopment with the community. They’re hoping enough public opposition will halt the project, which is dependent on the county’s rezoning of the golf course and approval of a special exception for a campground.
“We want the public to be aware,” neighbor Donald Bounds said.
Bounds and his fellow neighbors will host an informational meeting at the Ocean Pines library Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 6:30 p.m. They want to share the plans for the campground with the public and urge citizens to voice concerns to county officials.
For them the biggest issues related to the redevelopment of the 93-acre golf course are the environmental and traffic impacts a 311-site campground would create. According to Bounds, traffic on Route 611 is already heavy during the summer. It’s not uncommon to see vehicles backed up for miles on Route 376, waiting to turn onto Route 611. He says vehicles trying to reach the Ocean City and Assateague areas even create backups as far as the Route 113 and Route 376 intersection in Berlin.
“A major concern for everyone is the traffic,” he said.
Jenkins agreed and pointed out Route 611 already saw its share of RVs, as campers traveled it to reach campsites at Castaways, Frontier Town, Assateague State Park and Assateague Island National Seashore. She and her neighbors fear Route 611 is becoming the “campground capital of Maryland.”
“We are saturating Worcester County with RV campgrounds,” she said. “We don’t have the road system to accommodate the additional traffic.”
Resident Jean Shanley added that Route 611 was traversed by numerous bicyclists and pedestrians. Motorists attempting to pass travel trailers created safety issues for those walking and biking. Shanley also pointed out that unlike she and her neighbors, people visiting the Eastern Shore with their travel trailers weren’t likely to be thinking about the future of the fragile shoreline.
“Campers don’t have the stake in the land we do,” she said.
According to the group of Ayres Creek residents, the proposed campground would not be in line with the county’s own comprehensive plan. The plan, which was adopted in 2006, notes a congested Route 611 that shouldn’t be developed because of traffic buildup and environmental sensitivity. They also cite a recent report from the University of Maryland Law Clinic that raises concerns about development and the Critical Area Law in Worcester County.
“The entire subwatershed other than its West Ocean City (northern) portion should not be further developed due to its traffic, environmental sensitivity, and high storm hazard vulnerability characteristics along with its value as a gateway to the parks,” reads the section of the county’s comprehensive plan relating to the Sinepuxent Neck and South Point area.
Anyone interested in the proposed campground is invited to Wednesday’s meeting to review a rendering of the facility and to talk with Bounds, Jenkins and other neighborhood residents. Bounds encourages anyone who wants more information or who can’t attend the meeting to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He and his neighbors expect the issue to be on the agenda of the Worcester County Planning Commission early in 2017. The first step toward redevelopment of the golf course will be the rezoning of the property from E-1 to A-2. That would be considered first by the planning commission and then by the Worcester County Commissioners. If the rezoning is approved, the developer could then seek a special exception for a campground from the county’s board of zoning appeals.
When consulted Monday, county officials said a rezoning application for the former Pine Shore property had been submitted but that it was too early to say whether it would be on the planning commission’s January agenda.
In a statement this week, Assateague Coastal Trust encouraged the public to attend the Dec. 28 meeting to learn about the “proposed RV Resort.”
“… it is extremely important to protect the water quality of Ayres Creek and Newport Bay by preserving the Critical Area buffers along the shoreline,” ACT’s statement read. “Allowing this type of intense development is not consistent with Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan. ACT will be opposed to any variances to the Critical Area Law for this development.”
On behalf of developer Todd Burbage and his Ayres Creek Family Farm, LLC, attorney Hugh Cropper issued a statement regarding campground plans for the 99-acre parcel. The property consisted of a golf course that was developed prior to Critical Area regulations and therefore structures and portions of the course extend into the bay today.
The developer is seeking to downzone the property from E-1, which would allow 50 single-family homes on the land, to A-2, which allows rental campgrounds by special exception. In his statement, Cropper points out the proposed campground would connect to the county-owned Mystic Harbor Service Area as would nearby homes that are currently operating on “outdated septic systems, which are polluting the acquifer.”
Cropper adds, “At a minimum, and in all instances, there will be a 100-foot vegetated buffer landward from the mean high water line. There will be no marina. There will be no boat slips. There will be no motorized boats. The property owner is proposing a low-impact kayak launch, but again, all structures will be outside of the 100-foot buffer. In other instances, the buffer will be 300 to 400 feet. There is a large area of the property adjacent to Ayres Creek, on the northwest portion of the property, which will be preserved in its natural state, except for walking trails with interpretive signs.”
Cropper’s statement explains environmental concerns with the campground development are unfounded.
“The property is improved with a number of man-made ponds/lakes. All stormwater will be directed to this pond system. All stormwater management will be handled onsite. There will be absolutely no runoff to Ayres Creek,” the statement reads. “By contrast, the single-family homes in the area do not have stormwater management systems and are located in the buffer. The runoff associated with these homes is going directly into Ayres Creek. More importantly, these homes are on drainfields with no treatment, and some of the drainfields are located in the buffer. It is undisputed that this wastewater is draining into Ayres Creek.”
Contrary to a housing development, which “would be a huge drain on the Worcester County budget, requiring multiple public services, including snow plowing the roads, fire and police protection and putting children through Worcester County funded schools,” Cropper and Burbage maintain the “campground will have virtually no impact on public services, except water and sewer, which the property owner will pay for.” The statement added, “The campground will barely be visible from either the roads or from Ayres Creek. The traffic impact will be small, especially compared to the thousands of daily visitors and campers that visit Assateague Island each day in the summer.”
In an earlier interview, Burbage invited concerned citizens to meet with him on a “group effort” to collectively establish a “conservation easement” on the property to assuage their environmental worries.
This proposed campground is not the only significant one in the local planning pipeline as just a few miles to the west a 434-site campground has been officially proposed for the Bay Club property on Libertytown Road.