Seaside YMCA hits major roadblock
By Bob Lassahn
In a surprise move the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) by a three to two vote rejected a special exception and variance to the proposed Seaside YMCA building thereby killing the project for now. Martin Steen, the developer who donated the 28-acre parcel, said he would appeal the decision to the circuit court.
Another surprise was that none of the proponents of the YMCA project attending the meeting rose up to speak in opposition. The project is planned to be built near the intersection of Gum Point Road and Route 589.
The issues involved included a special exception to allow the proposed use on land zoned A-1 (agricultural) and a variance on a 200-foot setback for a pool. To date the project led a somewhat charmed existence as it gained necessary county approvals in spite of consistent opposition from two county commissioners.
Attorney Mark Cropper presented the case for the YMCA before the BZA. The panel consisted of five of the seven members with one member absent and one who disqualified himself from hearing the case. Mr. Cropper provided qualifications of a panel of experts including a civil engineer, architect, traffic consultant, representatives of the YMCA and Atlantic General Hospital and Marvin Steen, speaking as a realtor and developer.
Mr. Cropper introduced a copious amount of documents outlining previous approvals or agreements, renderings of various site plans, testimony from his expert witnesses plus letters of support from Delegate Bennett Bozman and local developer Jack Burbage. It was obvious however that questions remained in the minds of several board members, not the least of them relating to increased traffic.
Expert testimony from Wes Guckert of the Traffic Group and a letter relating assurances from Donnoie Drewer of the State Highway Administration that a traffic signal would be installed at the intersection of Gum Point Road and Route 589 should the YMCA become a reality did little to assuage their concern.
Attorney Robert McIntosh represented the Gum Point Homeowners Association and pressed the traffic issue further. He also presented Jay Charland, Coastkeeper for the Assateague Coastal Trust to provide testimony concluding that the increased traffic flow at the intersection would have a detrimental impact on the waters of Turville Creek. This was backed up by 11 individuals, including two from Ocean Pines, testifying regarding the negative impact from traffic, noise, lights and a variety of other concerns.
Although there were some individuals present that are believed supporters of the Seaside YMCA no one rose to speak. Obvious among them were Dan Stachurski, president of the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board and several members of the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Cropper delivered a closing statement appealing for approval but it fell on deaf ears for some of the panel.
According to some sources a successful appeal of the BZA determination could be difficult. With this ruling the Seaside YMCA has hit a serious snag and the prospects for the facility are now in doubt. If the YMCA is not constructed within a specified time frame the land will revert to the ownership of the OPA.
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