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Public hearing held on Town Center Referendum
By Bob Lassahn

On Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) held a public hearing for all property owners on the Town Center Referendum question that will appear on this year’s election ballot. A crowd estimated to be as many as 200 persons squeezed into the Ocean Pines Country Club for the hearing, creating a standing room only situation and leading OPA Board President Dan Stachurski to comment that the limits of the facility were being tested regarding meetings.

Mr. Stachurski provided the welcoming statements and a brief history regarding how the Board of Directors had arrived at the current referendum question. The referendum is being heavily promoted to the property owners through a public information campaign to garner support. The exact wording that OPA voters will be considering is as follows:

“The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors unanimously recommends building a new facility on the OPA owned Sports Core property at the southeast corner of Rt. 589 and Cathell Rd. to accommodate the community’s current and projected space needs for meetings, recreation programming and social activities.
Construction of this 29,000 square-foot facility is anticipated to cost $3.9 million. It will be funded by the sale of 19 OPA-owned buildable lots within the community and the sale of the OPA-owned 2.8 acre commercial property located on the east side of MD Rt. 589 between MD Rt. 90 and Cathell Rd.

Do you authorize the OPA Board of Directors to build this facility as described above, funded as stated?”

The meeting lasted for less than one hour, including a 15 minute opening statement by Mr. Stachurski. During that time a total of 14 individuals offered comments or questions to the board. Six of those offering comments, including OPA Board candidate Ray Unger, spoke in support of the proposal, while seven individuals asked questions and did not state a specific position for or against the referendum. Board candidate Janet Kelley, previously the only board candidate expressing specific opposition to the referendum, chose to use the term “major concerns” as she questioned the size, site selection, disposition of existing spaces and expenses involved in the decision. Ms. Kelley again questioned why the area adjacent to the existing community hall would not be suitable.

Various board members provided responses to the comments and questions clarifying some financial issues such as how potential cost overruns might be handled and how operating costs might impact annual assessments. In answer to potential costs above the $3.9 million estimate Board member Tom Sandusky explained that a figure of about $4.4 million is being considered as a “cap,” or the point where the board would reexamine the project and look at potential cost cutting measures. He also noted that current reserves of about $500,000 could be applied.

On the question of a potential increase on assessments to cover increased operating costs Board President Stachurski summarized that the projected operating expenses of $121,000 per year might be absorbed by the surplus revenues OPA has been experiencing over the last several years. A worst case scenario, where none of the increase could be absorbed by revenues, could result in an annual increase of about $15 to $18 per lot, a statement quickly qualified by Board member Mark Venit as occurring in the year 2007 at the earliest.

Mr. Venit also addressed a question regarding the design of the building that has been circulating by explaining the layout is to establish some idea of the building’s size and not a finalized design. He assured the audience that the final design would be subject to public input and that suggestions would be welcomed.

It is difficult to draw any conclusion of a prevailing attitude among property owners toward the referendum from the events at the public hearing. While support outweighed opposition among those stating a specific position, 50 percent of the speakers had at least some questions they wanted answered.

Many of the questions and issues surrounding the referendum are answered, in detail, in the extensive literature being offered by the board. The final outcome of the referendum will likely hinge on how successful the board will be in getting its message to those who remain undecided and convincing them to “Vote YES! For Ocean Pines.”

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Uploaded: 7/6/2005