Ocean City should immediately abandon any thoughts of closing St. Louis Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets as recommended by a consultant presenting park redevelopment proposals. It was surprising to hear comments from local officials who expressed some support for closing the block to vehicular traffic in any fashion during a subcommittee meeting last Friday.
Though there could be a rational argument made for temporary closures for off-season special events, any redevelopment plans for the downtown park should exclude major changes to the road. Dozens of comments in opposition were posted on our Facebook page and elsewhere when the story was posted Monday morning. St. Louis Avenue is a popular route for locals who are aware of the short cut north and south as well as the ease of access during the summer months.
This lamebrained concept reminds me of a plan submitted by a Texas consultant evaluating downtown redevelopment more than 20 years ago. Two major suggestions were to close off the downtown to vehicle traffic south of the Route 50 Bridge and to sell the Inlet parking lot to a private company for a massive mixed-use development anchored by a major hotel. Though there were parts of the plan clearly embraced that eventually led to the formation of the Ocean City Development Corporation, those two key suggestions for a new vision for the downtown were abandoned as impractical immediately. It revealed a major disconnect between the consultant and the realities of the community being evaluated.
Like the report in 1999, there are pieces of the proposed redevelopment plan for the park worth pursuing and considering for future funding. It’s exciting to see some major changes suggested. However, in the end, I think any sort of closure of St. Louis Avenue from 2nd to 3rd streets will not gain traction before the full council. Most of the council will realize this will have a major negative impact on residents.
Everyone wants to know when public school students will return to in-person learning in Worcester County. The short answer is it’s not clear yet, but details are beginning to leak out. What is known is some students will begin returning next week.
Approximately 10% of Worcester County public school students will return on Monday. The students in this first group include special needs individuals with Individualized Education Plans, at-risk students who have not been participating in virtual learning and the children of teachers.
There appears to be a phased-in plan moving forward, according to documentation sent out by some county public schools this week. More and more students will return on a two-week basis evidently with more students expected to return Oct. 12 and then additional students two or three weeks later, according to notices sent to parents at a couple local schools. In fact, one teacher told students in a class on Zoom this week all students are expected back in the buildings by early November on the one-week, in-person followed by one-week virtual rotation.
I have enjoyed being a part of the town hall discussions with Berlin mayor and council candidates the last two weeks. The goal of these virtual forums was simple – to educate and inform town voters on the candidates and choices they have to make next month. Additionally, I am hopeful the video forums, which can be found on our website, also further increase citizens’ interest in letting their voices be heard. Berlin typically has a dismal voter turnout, but in the defense of voters there have not been a lot of choices for them to make in recent history.
I have never sided with the incumbent elected officials’ theories when they are unopposed. They in the past were quoted as attributing the lack of challengers as confirmation they were doing well by their constituents. While there could be some truth to that, I think more likely is the fact the voter base was apathetic.
It’s safe to say today Berlin’s community is as invested and interested in the upcoming election as ever. The two forums we hosted online have a combined 2,200 unique views with average watch times of 45 minutes. Berlin has less than 4,000 registered voters. I even heard a fun report this week of a planned happy hour at a local residence featuring the candidate videos being projected on a big screen outside.
Another indication of the active political community Berlin has become is this week’s uproar over Berlin Councilman Troy Purnell’s son, Austin, being appointed to the town’s planning commission by Mayor Gee Williams. Austin Purnell, a local Realtor, is expected to be sworn in during Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting. Purnell will replace former Planning Commissioner John Barrett, who gave up his seat recently after relocating his residence outside of town.
It’s expected this appointment will be the subject of an ethics complaint in the near future. It will be the ethics commission’s job to see if there has been any malfeasance in this situation, and my guess is the group will not find wrongdoing, but it’s certainly noteworthy the swearing-in ceremony will take place a week before the election.