aryland's Worcester County Commissioners expressed concern regarding a potential casino overlay zone at a meeting last week.
On Tuesday, the commissioners held a work session regarding the Ocean Downs Casino’s proposal to create a casino overlay zone, which would allow for more entertainment uses on the property. While not all commissioners weighed in on the proposal, several voiced reservations regarding impacts on traffic as well as other tracts of land in the county. “I’m very concerned about the overlay district possibly being applied to other A-2 areas of the county eventually,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said, as reported by Maryland Coastal Dispatch.
The Worcester County Planning Commission recently gave a favorable recommendation to a text amendment that would create a casino overlay zone for the A-2 district. The commissioners opted to delay a public hearing on the proposal until Oct. 20 so they could host a work session on the issue first. Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting, reviewed the zoning history of the casino on Tuesday. He said the majority of the large property was designated A-2 while a seven-acre corner near Route 50 was designated C-2 commercial.
“When slots were first approved in Maryland in 2008 there was lots of discussion on the local level of how we were going to handle slots out at the track,” Tudor said. “At the time the commissioners instructed me to try to come up with a way or think of ways that we could accommodate it at the track without the need for unnecessary public hearings.” Tudor’s department eventually permitted the slots as an accessory use to the racetrack. The text amendment proposed by the casino would change the casino from an accessory use to one permitted through the casino overlay district.
In his presentation, Tudor added that the casino had been granted a fairgrounds application in the 1990s that allowed it to host a variety of special events, including things like boat shows, motor races, beer festivals and concerts. He said that between the uses allowed through that special exception and the uses regularly permitted in the A-2 zone the casino has the ability to do just about everything the casino overlay zone would. He indicated the overlay zone would just make for a more cohesive development. “The idea is to have a homogenous, holistic look at the whole project,” he said, adding that a traffic study would be required for the entire concept.
In addition, Tudor said the county had also received a letter from the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, a group that represents the owners, drivers and trainers who race at Ocean Downs, regarding the overlay zone. The organization wants to ensure that the overlay zone wouldn’t lead to the elimination of racing at the casino.
“Cloverleaf has no objection to Ocean Downs expanding the casino operations to include other retail operations such as shops, hotels and theaters,” the letter reads. “That could create tax benefits for the county, additional entertainment options for residents and visitors, and benefits for the race track. However, there should be no change to the law unless the previously agreed-upon condition remains in effect; that is, that no gambling could be operated at the Ocean Downs site if live racing is stopped for a period of 12 consecutive months.”