Ellis Cautions Against Sprawl, Urges Service Road
by Cara Dahl
(Republished with permission from the Ocean Pines Gazette, August 11, 2004.
This piece captures the essence of important issues facing Worcester County
and Ocean Pines as seen through the eyes of Ed Ellis.)
Ed Ellis, the former Chair of the Worcester County Planning Commission who resigned in June, spent his exit interview with the Worcester County Commissioners delineating a final list of planning problems to be solved.
"On behalf of the county commissioners I really want to thank you for your service to the citizens of Worcester County," said county commission president John "Sonny" Bloxom.
"I'm disappointed I had to resign," said Ellis, citing family and business considerations. "It's been an interesting eight years. It was a privilege to serve the county."
Ellis remarked that the county commissioners who appointed him did not get what they expected, referring to his disagreements with the commissioners and his willingness to go his own way.
Bloxom, who was among those commissioners eight years ago, said that they expected him to be fair and open minded, and he had been.
"I do think there are things in this county that can be fixed," said Ellis, who had an at times contentious relationship with the county commissioners.
The "inordinate amount" of development on Route 50 will do permanent damage to Ocean City, and access to the resort, said Ellis. If the current situation continues, there will be long term damage to Ocean City.
According to Ellis, a service road must be built.
"It is time to stop talking about it," he said. "We've got public safety issues that are above politics, above private development interests."
The Wal-Mart intersection is particularly dangerous, in his estimation.
There is no sense in bragging about low tax rates in the county if there are serious safety issues on the roads, said Ellis.
Route 707 needs to be reopened on the north side of Route 50, and a traffic light installed at Holly Grove Road.
"Human life is at risk and access to the town is at risk," said Ellis.
For the last year and a half, the Planning Commission has asked for revisions to the landscaping code to soften the impact of development.
The county Planning Department staff, who, said Ellis, are among of the finest he has ever worked with, need to be increased.
Growth is tasking that staff ever more heavily.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends against centralized sewer for rural communities, said Ellis.
Smaller plants are considered better options, according to a 1997 EPA document.
"Every place I've seen central sewer go, I've seen sprawl go," Ellis said.
Sprawl could easily happen in the Route 50 corridor considering the tremendous pressure for uncontrolled development.
"I've also seen what it does to river systems," said Ellis.
The St. Martin River is unusable already for recreational purposes.
Ellis said he has spoken to county staffers who have told him there is no effective way to eliminate odor from large wastewater plants.
"We're going to be dumping more and more nitrogen into the St. Martin River," he warned.
Land treatment of effluent is the best option, he said, and added that the county should have the foresight to buy a tract of land for effluent disposal in the north end of the county.
"The river is sick now," he said. The St. Martin River and some of the coastal bays are very slow to flush.
Sign laws need to be strengthened, said Ellis, to reduce the size of commercial signs.
"You've done a lot for the county," said Commissioner Bud Church. He added, "In many cases, you've done an excellent job."
"I appreciate those kind words, especially from you," said Ellis.
It has never been a question of whether or not to do the service road beginning at the juncture of Route 589 and Route 50, but how, said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
"I realized, you need an overpass," said Shockley. He continued, "We'd love to have an overpass. We can't get one."
The state does not agree with the county's intent to do the service road, much less an overpass.
"Up here we keep running into walls," said Shockley.
Fourteen acres would be needed to create an overpass, said Commissioner James Purnell, which cannot be done, so the commissioners must move on to the next best thing.
As for Route 707, the decision to eliminate the section north of Route 50 was the state's, which gave the county little warning of its intentions.
Shockley said that he too had praise for Ellis, up to a certain point.
"Sometimes you act like a bull in a china shop," said Shockley.
"And you don't?" Ellis shot back, to general laughter.
"We're going to miss you," said Commissioner Tom Cetola, adding that the disagreement he had with Ellis over the Route 113 rezoning is "over the bridge."
Commissioner Judy Boggs added her praise, saying that she has been impressed with Ellis' general knowledge, fairness, and leadership.
"You have done a tremendous job for the county and I think you have done it with a great deal of heart," said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.
As far as the Route 50 service road, Bloxom pointed out that the commissioners have recently amended the Route 50 corridor plan to include the necessary changes. Next year, the county will begin the lengthy process of acquiring rights of way.
"You're absolutely right. It has to be built, so it will be built," said Bloxom.