SNOW HILL – With last week’s vote to move forward with a sports complex on Route 50, the county can now begin putting the pieces in place to bring the project to fruition.
An environmental site assessment, updates to Maryland Stadium Authority studies and a request for design proposals are now in the works. While questions abound regarding the sports complex, officials say the detailed work can begin now that the commissioners voted to proceed.
“Detailed concept and master planning has been on hold until a site was selected,” said Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young. “These plans are not one size fits all and depend on the site’s location, size, soil conditions and other factors.”
Following a public hearing April 19, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to proceed with buying 95 acres for a sports complex and to bond $11.2 million for the project. Though a contract is in place regarding the plan to purchase the 95-acre parcel for $7,150,000, the county will schedule a National Environmental Policy Act study before the sale is finalized. Young said the environmental site assessment would identify any concerns with the land.
“The environmental study is due diligence before acquiring the site,” Young said.
The contract currently in place gives the county a 180-day study period and allows the termination of the contract during that time for any reason. As the county waits for the results of the environmental site assessment, Young said his office was also reviewing requests for proposals (RFPs) done elsewhere for master planning and layout of the proposed complex.
“There’s a lot of options on the table for layout,” he said.
While some layouts might include little more than basic rectangular sports fields and a concession stand, others could be far more elaborate. The Town of Ocean City has made clear its desire for an indoor facility at the county’s complex.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the Maryland Stadium Authority was updating its latest study to address a facility with indoor and outdoor space as well as the site location and what would suit the area. Once that’s done Mitrecic said the county would be able to move forward with issuing an RFP for a designer and operator.
“It was never meant to be paid for by taxpayers,” he said. “It was never meant to be run by the county.”
Though the county is moving ahead with the project, not everyone in the community supports the effort. Town of Berlin officials expressed concern during last week’s public hearing and agreed to send a letter seeking a meeting with Worcester County officials this week.
“The property may be located in the county but we all know that is the town of Berlin,” Councilman Dean Burrell said during Monday’s town council meeting. “I am so disappointed that a project of this nature would be planned and the Town of Berlin not be informed nor consulted.”
Young said Wednesday the county would be including the town in the planning process moving forward. Commissioner Diana Purnell said that while she’d heard both excitement and concern regarding the complex from her constituents in the days following the public hearing, she believed it would be a positive for the community.
“I’m glad it passed,” she said.
Other citizens with questions about the sports complex are considering an effort to petition for referendum. They held an informal meeting Monday night.
“Several concerned citizens began to explore the possibility of launching a petition related to how the county plans to fund the Sports Complex Project,” said Ocean Pines resident Slobodan Trendic, spokesperson for the effort, in an email. “We are in the preliminary stage and our discussions are ongoing. A critical research on the legal aspect of relevant state and local laws as well as the process that governs the petition is now underway. We intend to invite representatives from other communities to assist us with this important undertaking. We believe this effort needs to be collaborative and inclusive in order to have a valid petition and successful outcome.”
When asked about the possibility of a referendum, Worcester County Public Information Officer Kim Moses said Roscoe Leslie, the county’s attorney, advised that there was a state law procedure for referendums of public local laws. A referendum petition would have to be filed within 40 days after a public local law was enacted and would have to contain the signatures of at least 10% of the voters of the county.
“The bond bill to finance the sports complex is a public local law, so that component of the sports complex process is subject to a potential referendum,” Moses said in an email. “If bond funds were not available, the project could be paid for by other revenue sources, like fund balance.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino, one of those who opposed proceeding with the land purchase, said he remained concerned that taxpayers would end up footing the bill for the complex. He said he had heard that a petition for referendum was being talked about by some citizens.
“It remains to be seen if the referendum effort will move forward but it’s certainly within their rights to voice their concerns on an issue that’s going to hit them squarely in the wallet,” he said.