By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Nov. 8, 2018) Worcester County officials have ordered Ocean Pines to restore the swim and racquet club park area to open space and the association has provided a timeline to do so, based on correspondences from both parties.
A resident group for months has fought to have bulkhead-staging materials removed from the site, claiming it lowered property values and posed a safety hazard. The area has doubled as an unofficial construction site for perhaps a decade or more.
An Oct. 8 complaint letter regarding “Industrial Use at [the] Swim & Racquet Club” was sent to Ocean Pines and county officials by Attorney Bruce Bright of the Ocean City law firm Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy & Almand.
The letter, written on behalf of a resident group, said the swim and racquet club was designated as a public park, but “has been used for a number of years as an industrial site.”
According to Bright, the industrial use violated Worcester County Zoning Code, disobeyed environmental agreements, and represented a breach in fiduciary duty by the Ocean Pines Board. He said improper use also harmed clients’ property values.
Presumably in response to the complaint, county officials met with Ocean Pines Association President Doug Parks, General Manager John Bailey and Facilities Manager Kevin Layfield on Oct. 23, and the county sent a letter to Ocean Pines officials on Oct. 25 signed by Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins.
In the letter, Higgins denied an apparent request to use the county water and wastewater facility on 1000 Shore Drive in Berlin as an alternate staging site.
“Furthermore, OPA’s current use of the Swim and Racquet Club land … as a staging area for their bulkhead replacement program and dredging operations is inappropriate,” Higgins said. “Considering that the property in question is zoned R-3 there is no specific provision in the Worcester County Zoning Ordinance to allow for such use.”
Higgins requested a timeline and “definitive steps they will take to correct this zoning violation and return this property back to its original state,” which was outlined in an Oct. 31 letter signed by Parks.
According to the “Staging Area Restoration Plan,” a dumpster was to be removed by last Friday. “All other materials” related to bulkhead replacement “will be removed by Friday November 30.”
Additionally, materials delivered to the site “related to the completion of the existing” bulkhead contract are to be “promptly loaded onto barges and will not remain stored on the site for more than 24 hours, weather permitting.” No equipment may remain on the site for longer than 24 hours.
When the existing bulkhead contract with Hi-Tide Marine Construction expires on Feb. 28, “The area will then be restored to open space.”
That includes removing or filling in impervious areas, applying topsoil and “Hyrdo-mulch,” and submitting to a county inspection.
The association will plant additional trees throughout the area and install a split-rail fence to “prevent any unauthorized use and clearly show that area is no longer accessible by vehicle traffic.” Restoration work is estimated to wrap by April 30, 2019.
Bailey, during a Town Hall meeting last Thursday, confirmed “several conversations with Worcester County officials” had occurred. He added the Ocean Pines Board, during its regular meeting last month, approved a new contract for bulkhead work and “that included not using the swim and racquet storage area.”
Parks added Ocean Pines received an emphatic “no” from the county on whether a county wastewater facility could be used as an alternate staging ground. He also said using White Horse Park for staging purposes was cost prohibitive and would likely not be sanctioned by the county.
Of the cost differential, Parks said the new $621,390 bulkhead contract awarded to McGinty Marine Construction of Bishopville last month represented an 11 percent increase to move the staging ground.
“At the end of the day … we’re trying to do the best we can,” Parks said. “We may be able to get [the county] at some point to reconsider the zoning issues, but there’s no guarantee there.
“Collectively, we’ve done what we needed to do to get us addressing the current issue and position us to at least look forward for the next several years,” he added.