OCEAN CITY — With Worcester considering relaxing design standards for new commercial development along the Route 50 corridor, resort officials this week urged striking a balance between maintaining the Lower Eastern Shore architectural style while encouraging new businesses.
During his quarterly report to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the county was on the verge of holding a public hearing on proposed changes in the design standards on new development along the gateway to Ocean City. In 1997, in advance of an anticipated development boom along the Route 50 corridor, the County Commissioners approved strict guidelines to ensure new commercial projects fit into the Eastern Shore vernacular and the guidelines were updated in 2004.
On Monday, Mitrecic told the Mayor and Council the county commissioners were prepared to hold a public hearing on the proposed revised guidelines and indeed on Tuesday the commissioner voted to approve the public sessions. Mitrecic said the proposed changes were designed to maintain a balance between sensible design standards for new projects while encouraging future development.
“We’re getting ready to introduce new design guidelines for commercial development along the Route 50 corridor,” he said. “The committee has met every month since last February. The guidelines were put in place in 1997 and updated in 2004, but they’re very stringent, possibly too stringent, and we’ve lost some big box stores that may have been interested in sites along Route 50.”
Mitrecic said the existing guidelines, including building heights and profiles, roof designs and exterior colors, have been somewhat successful in preserving some semblance of consistency along the Route 50 corridor, but have also discouraged new commercial development in some cases.
“There are a lot of good changes in this,” he said. “We’re looking for economic development too, and we’ve found that we’ve lost some stores that have would have been very beneficial to the not only to the visitors but the residents of Worcester County.”
Naturally, many commercial developers want their projects to be easily identifiable for consumers, whether they are in Worcester County or anywhere else in the country from building design to color schemes or signage, but the stringent design standards along the Route 50 corridor have been prohibitive for some, according to Mitrecic The proposed relaxed standards could encourage new commercial development along the corridor where zoning and public utilities are readily available.
“They have their own plans on how they want their stores to look and if they don’t fit into the design standards, it becomes cumbersome financially and they just decide to leave and look elsewhere.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the proposed design guideline changes could and should strike a balance between preserving the look and feel of the gateway to the resort while encouraging new commercial development.
“I think it’s important to find a balance,” he said. “I really believe if you go back a decade or so, there were county commissioners that were really trying to discourage development.”
Meehan said the existing commercial development along the corridor has been beneficial for resort visitors and residents.
“When you look today and you go out to Wal-Mart and Home Depot and you see all of the cars out there, it shows those businesses are thriving and are what the county wanted,” he said. “Not having to drive to Salisbury or Dover or somewhere else has been a great benefit for Worcester County residents. The balance is important, but style and some of those things we do are certainly equally important.”