A New Approach Along Route 50?

A New Approach Along Route 50?

Worcester County was right to relax Route 50 design guidelines, but local residents should be weary of what could be coming in the future as a result.

These design guidelines came about in the 1990s as a result of a visioning process that involved crafting a corridor plan on Route 50 from Seahawk Road east to Holly Grove Road. That area was at that time expected to become a hotbed for commercial development, specifically franchise restaurants and retail businesses.

With a few exceptions, that has never materialized. The economic collapse of a decade ago is partly to blame. The seasonality of the area and the small — relatively speaking — year-round population is part of the equation as well. The high cost of available properties and requisite utility connections are also part of the reason why this area has not been attractive to corporate types. We believe these are the primary reasons.

According to county officials and lawyers representing prospective developers, the current design guidelines on the books in Worcester County are to blame as well. They see them as too restrictive for national brand names being sought to build in front of the Wal-Mart and Home Depot and on either side of the big box stores.

That’s why a task force was created by the county to study the issue. The result of that meeting of the minds was presented this week. While the task force was reportedly comprised of a diverse group of individuals, we have to wonder whether the majority of local property owners want to see more chain restaurants — the Cracker Barrels of the world — and national retailers in the area of the Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

There’s reason to believe that might be the case when you take the popularity of the Tanger Outlets in West Ocean City and its national brand stores. The growth of other national operations — Dunkin Donuts, Outback and Carrabbas, to name a few — suggests the local appetite for these offerings is significant.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to believe the attitude of what Route 50 should look like has changed drastically over 20 years. Back when the former corridor plan, containing the design guidelines under review recently, was being drafted, a commonly stated goal was to stop Route 50 from becoming Ritchie Highway across the bridge or more locally north Salisbury.

This week’s decision by the County Commissioners to ease development rules suggests that’s no longer the case, at least among elected and planning officials. We hope the safeguards to prevent oversaturation are legitimate and exercised. It needs to be smart, sustainable growth and not just projects that result in the inevitable — more stoplights on the highway.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.