SNOW HILL – The public is expected to have a chance to weigh in on a plan to establish a sports complex in northern Worcester County.
Several of the Worcester County Commissioners made it clear this week they wanted to hear from the public before the county purchased land it’s considering for a sports complex. Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, president of the board, said that because the county didn’t want to identify the property before a contract was in place, the public hearing should take place after that point. He said all the county had done so far was agree to get an appraisal of the land being considered.
“We haven’t even talked with the property owner,” he said. “We knew we needed a second appraisal to get Program Open Space to fund it.”
Though the commissioners and county officials have discussed the potential for a sports complex for years, in early July the commissioners agreed to order an appraisal of a specific property. Though the property owner had one appraisal, Mitrecic said that because the county wanted to purchase the site using Program Open Space funds, two appraisals would be needed. The commissioners voted 5-2, with Commissioners Jim Bunting and Chip Bertino opposed, to move forward with an appraisal during their July 6 meeting.
This week, Bertino, who represents Ocean Pines, said that as a result of that decision he’d been questioned about the purchase process. According to oceanpinesforum.com, a website run by Pines resident Joe Reynolds, the property being considered is at the southeast corner of Route 589 and Route 113, just north of Showell Park.
“The sad part of all this? It looks like people living in Ocean Pines will have absolutely no influence at the county level on whether this massive project is built or not,” Reynolds wrote online. “Ocean City wants more tourism dollars and five commissioners seem ready to give it to them, regardless of the potential impact on quality of life outside Ocean City, especially along the Route 589 corridor. If a massive sports complex is to be built, the commissioners should be urged to find land, or a site plan, where traffic will not adversely impact local residential communities.”
Though Roscoe Leslie, the county attorney, said this week that the county didn’t have to host a public hearing, Mitrecic said he’d assumed the county would hold one anyway. While Bunting expressed interest in setting one up as soon as possible, Mitrecic said it was too early.
“During the talks to purchase a property, we can’t identify the property,” he said. “So a public hearing would be just about the concept, it wouldn’t have anything to do with where it went or how it went or whatever else. Until we are able to purchase a piece of property and have it contracted I don’t see how we could have a public hearing.”
He said that after appraisals and negotiations, a public hearing could be held. Leslie agreed.
“You can structure your contract with all kinds of contingencies,” he said.
Mitrecic said he and Leslie and Weston Young, the county’s incoming chief administrative officer, had a preliminary meeting with representatives of a turf company and a management company. They are scheduled to make a presentation to the commissioners at their second meeting in August. Young said that meeting would give the commissioners an idea of the various scenarios that were possible.
“By the end of the year they’ll have 35 locations that they manage and each one sounds like they have a slightly different arrangement with the home county or city,” Young said.
Mitrecic said that he’d stressed to the company that county officials wanted residents to be able to use the sports complex when tournaments were not underway. He said company representatives had asked about the county’s interest in water parks, RV parking and hotels on site.
“I left pretty much everything up to them,” he said.
Bertino said he was concerned that the company was putting together a proposal without input from more commissioners.
“I certainly understand the need for preliminary conversations but it seems to me a framework is being established, albeit very generally and at an altitude of 30,000 feet, but that a framework’s being put together by a few people,” he said.
Mitrecic said the primary purpose of the meeting had been to set a date for all of the commissioners to meet with the company, which has been scheduled for Aug. 17.
“It’s been clear to me you didn’t want the county to run it,” Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said. “You wanted a private developer to come in. based on that direction that’s what we’re trying to plan out.”
Mitrecic said he’d stressed to the management company that a complex in Worcester County would have to be privately run and that the company had indicated there were numerous possibilities.
“I think the goal of the August meeting is to show what could be available,” Young said. “They can at least show you what they’ve done elsewhere and explain their business model.”