(Sept. 18, 2020) The Worcester County Commissioners discussed the possible consequences of approving the addition of a Casino Entertainment District in the zoning code during their meeting on Tuesday.
The amendment would create the proposed district as a permitted use in the A-2 (Agricultural) district and establish regulations as an overlay district, which would allow the Ocean Downs Casino on Racetrack Road to exist independently.
As it stands, the casino only exists as an accessory to the Ocean Downs racetrack. With an overlay district, the property would be allowed uses such as retail shops, hotels, theaters and exhibition space, which are all prohibited for the agriculturally zoned portion.
These uses are allowed for the 7.7 acres of the casino property that is zoned C-2 Commercial. The rest of the property is zoned A-2.
Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, explained that when gambling was legalized in Maryland in 2008, the county decided to make the casino as an accessory use to the racetrack to avoid public hearings.
He also noted that in 1997, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved an application to create a fairground at Ocean Downs. It allows a plethora of uses by special exception, some of which include monster truck exhibitions, recreational vehicles, boat shows, art exhibitions, festivals, car rallies, classic rock shows, corporation picnics, haunted houses and other Halloween activities, carnivals, rodeos, horse shows and laser light shows.
“When you look at everything that’s around the special exception, everything that’s allowed in the C-2, I don’t believe there’s anything in the current proposal for this casino overlay district that’s not already allowed somewhere else through the combination of these different other approvals,” Tudor said.
When asked by Commissioner Jim Bunting, Tudor clarified that the overlay district would not apply to all A-2 zones, only legal casinos in A-2 zones.
“I’m very concerned about the overlay district possibly being applied to other A-2 areas in the county eventually, the way things happen,” Bunting said. “I just don’t think this was the proper way to go through it.”
Tudor also clarified for County Commissioner Chip Bertino that the special exception uses for the district would have to be approved by the state.
Bertino then raised concerns about traffic on Route 589.
“My concern is that we would have a situation where we would have increased traffic along 589 without the state moving forward with widening that route, as this body of commissioners and the commissioners before us have made as one of their top three asks of the state highway,” Bertino said.
Tudor replied that any project along a state highway would have to be approved by the State Highway Administration.
Bunting brought up the different types of facilities or activities that could be held with the overlay district, stating that the A-2 zone was created as a buffer for A-1 and other zones.
“I’m a little concerned about the integrity of the A-2 district,” Bunting said.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic said that he would reserve his comments for the public hearing, but illustrated one possibility with the casino overlay district.
“They have a concert out there and you have 2,500 to 3,000 people leaving that casino area at the same time, pouring out on 589 in vehicles,” Mitrecic said.
In a previous interview, Bobbi Sample, general manager of the casino, said the facility does not currently have any plans for special uses.
The public hearing for the Casino Entertainment District will be during the commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20.