Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – November 26, 2021

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – November 26, 2021

A sports book could be up and running at Ocean Downs Casino soon after the new year. Gov. Larry Hogan said last week he was optimistic about “getting sports betting underway as quickly as possible in time for the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.” Approximately 67% of Marylanders supported a referendum in 2020 to allow existing casinos to add sports wagering to their offerings.

Ocean Downs Casino General Manager Bobbi Sample said meeting those goals was possible. Super Bowl LVI will be held Feb. 13 with the NFL playoffs beginning about a month before the big game.

“Ocean Downs has already started preparing for sports wagering, as have the other four licensees,” she said. “John Martin, director and the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, has estimated that implementation would take approximately 30 to 45 days from the time that SWARC awarded the licenses. That would fall within the timeframe that the governor has targeted.” Sample reported the casino’s “gaming floor has been reconfigured and our sports wagering kiosks are being put in place on our existing gaming floor near Poseiden’s Pub and table games area. We will continue to work through all of the requirements of the MLGCA so that we can meet the desired timeline.”

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After lots of discussion during a meeting this week at City Hall, Ocean City Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis asked what everyone wanted to know near the end of this week’s review of the 13-story, 265-room Margaritaville project proposed for the old Beach Plaza site. He inquired how the commission as a whole felt about the project and whether a favorable recommendation for a planned overlay district (POD) would be given to the Mayor and Council. The commission’s recommendation carries some weight, but the council has in years past not sided with planners. Gillis asked, “I read through the letters from the neighbors and I’ve listened to this panel say this project is too massive. I guess what I’d like to understand if I can, is it five units too many? Fifty-five units too many?”

The informal polling of the commission found at least four were supportive of granting the POD, which is needed for the project to move forward. The commission has seemed to initially support the project during the review process. In the end, the commission did not Tuesday take a vote on its recommendation to the council, waiting instead to hear how the council voted on a request on an alley matter next week. The section of Washington Lane that bisects the property is critical for the project. The city must convey the alley to the developer, who would then return it to the city as a public easement, to meet the 90,000-square-foot minimum for a POD. The council has seemed amenable to conveyances of this sort in the past.

Hugh Cropper, the attorney representing the developers, is optimistic the commission will advance the project to the council with a favorable recommendation at its Dec. 14 meeting. He said the density of the project was permitted by code and the development fit with the resort’s comprehensive plan. “Planned overlay districts are encouraged by the comprehensive plan — not just permitted — to promote mixed use unified development for larger parcels,” he said. “Ocean City is looking for destinations. Margaritaville fits it perfectly.”

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Though it’s been needed for some time, it was surprising to learn the Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard intersection will soon be reconstructed with a crosswalk. The issue has not been well received in the past by the state. It now sounds like the new intersection design will mirror the look of the intersection at the corner of Bay Street and Route 113 a little south. The construction of the Bay Street crosswalk occurred after a fatal accident at the intersection claimed the life of a young kid. It’s a relief it didn’t take a death to bring about the new intersection at Old Ocean City Boulevard.

The loss of life is what some folks in Berlin want to avoid with the intersection of Main Street and Route 50 on the other side of town. When the matter was broached on the We Heart Berlin Facebook page, there was no consensus as to whether a stoplight should be added. Some agreed with the resident’s post a stop light was a most to save lives, while others disagreed and encouraged those concerned to choose another option to enter and leave town.

These sorts of discussions have been occurring for 25 years about this intersection. The same conclusion has always been reached – traffic volume does not merit a light according to the State Highway Administration. Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart reiterated as much last month, saying, “We have had meetings with SHA and they have said there will never be a red light there.” SHA Assistant Media Relations Manager Shanteé Felix put it a little milder, saying, ““MDOT SHA has received customer concerns about the US 50/MD 818 intersection and we are continuing to evaluate the traffic circulation to determine the best path forward. As development in this area expands, the district office will monitor the impacts and determine what mitigative measures will be necessary to maintain the state’s standard levels of safety and mobility.”

My take on the issue is it will take something significant – the 172-unit townhome community proposed nearby would be an example – near the intersection for the state to change its mind about a stoplight.

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.