SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners have delayed a public hearing on a proposed casino overlay zone in order to hold a work session on the proposal first.
The commissioners voted on Tuesday to postpone a public hearing on the creation of a casino overlay zone and instead to host a work session on the topic Sept. 15.
“It’s a very complex bill,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “I want to make sure the commissioners and staff know what it entails and what the ramifications will be.”
Last month, the Worcester County Planning Commission gave a favorable recommendation to a text amendment proposed by attorney Joe Moore that would create a casino overlay zone. Moore told the commission that when the casino was first built, it was permitted as an accessory use to the racetrack at Ocean Downs. The text amendment would create an overlay zone for the A-2 district that would more accurately reflect the property’s uses. Permitted uses listed on the proposed text amendment in the new “Casino Entertainment District” include casinos, parking garages, nightclubs, race tracks, boarding stables, recreation centers, stadiums, theaters, restaurants and bars, health clubs and places of assembly for exhibitions.
“Over the last 10 years, we have discussed the special nature of our zoning with the county’s zoning staff and they felt that this text amendment was an appropriate change,” said Bobbi Sample, general manager of the casino. “We do not have any current plans to expand at this time, particularly in this COVID-19 environment. We do hope to renovate and modernize our racetrack club house at some point and will evaluate opportunities in the future that make sense for the property and the surrounding communities that benefit from the tax money generated through the casino.”
Mitrecic said he wanted to postpone the public hearing on the text amendment to give the commissioners more time to understand the bill. He said it could affect more than the Ocean Downs Casino property.
“There’ll be a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said. “It’s a very all-encompassing type bill. We need to understand the ramifications of what passing it will do and mean to the county.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino said he’d heard from a number of people who had concerns about the proposed overlay district and what it could mean for the community.
“I’m very pleased we’re having a work session,” he said. “There are a lot of questions.”
A discussion of the overlay district will be on the agenda for the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association in the coming weeks. It’s also a topic of interest for the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce. Kerrie Bunting, executive director of the chamber, said she just learned about the overlay district last week and was glad that the commissioners had delayed the public hearing. She hopes that will give residents and business owners along Route 589 time to learn about the proposal.
“In terms of economic impact to our area, it is exciting, however, I am all about full disclosure and public awareness,” she said. “We have known for a very long time that Route 589 is woefully inadequate and that AGH is set to break ground on their outpatient surgical center soon. Growth is awesome as long as its smart growth.”
The work session on the casino overlay zone is set to take place at the Worcester County Commissioners meeting on Sept. 15.