County acquires more land for Delmar sports complex

Wicomico County will acquire a lot along South Second Street, above right.

The Delmarva Shorebirds were ready to come to the rescue last week and help Wicomico County purchase land to expand the Little League baseball complex in Delmar, but a last-second concession by the landowner allowed the deal to go through without outside help.

By tapping funds available through the state’s Open Space program, the council agreed Tuesday to pay developer/auctioneer Doug Marshall $35,000 for a 1-acre lot at 810 West Second St., near Delmar Elementary School.

Marshall had placed a firm price of $38,000 on the lot, which was more than the county’s independent appraisal number of $35,000. When it looked like the deal might break down, the Shorebirds’ owners offered a $3,000 grant from the Minor League Baseball team’s “Fly Together Fund” to ensure the transaction.

Acquiring the land to provide more space for the intensively used Mason Dixon Sports Complex has been on the county’s wish list for a while. County officials had missed out on previous potential opportunities, but stepped forward when a new opportunity arose earlier this month.

On July 7, County Parks Director Steve Miller presented the council with a proposal to purchase the lot. Though the lot is zoned residential, the county is a natural buyer for the property, given its locale as an outdoor athletics facility.

In July 2019, the county purchased an adjacent lot for $29,700. Miller told the council his department could use the land to add ballfields, improve parking and possibly relocate the concession stand, which is currently in a highly trafficked area along Pennsylvania Avenue.

According to state records, Marshall paid $30,000 for the lot just last December. While the state Department of Assessment and Taxation records the value at $40,100, a county-initiated appraisal placed the value at $35,000.

When County Council members began calculating the asking price vs. the appraised value at the July 7 session, it quickly became clear the purchase proposal was in trouble.

Miller said Marshall was firm on his $38,000 asking price, which especially raised the ire of council members Joe Holloway, John Cannon and Larry Dodd.

In a series of tense exchanges that night, the members argued with Councilman Bill McCain, whose father once served as Delmar’s Mayor. McCain became so upset at the possibility that the council might not act that he offered to raise funds to bridge the appraisal number and asking-price gap.

“We should be here as a council to make things happen and make our community better,” McCain said. “The question should be how can we make this work, not how can we make this not work.”

Last week, however, Marshall re-engaged Miller and said he would make the purchase price $35,000 if the county agreed to place some type of sign at the site recognizing the county councilman’s late father, who died in 2008 at age 81.

William Allen “Bill” McCain, 81, was long known for his involvement with Delmar Little League, both as a coach and a booster. He was instrumental in founding the Delmar Senior League and Big League programs, as well as getting the Mason Dixon Sports Complex financed and built.

He served as Delmar’s Mayor in the early 1980s and retired from C&P Telephone Co. in 1984 after working as a lineman for 38 years.

After the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase, Cannon praised both Marshall’s reconsideration, as well as the Shorebirds’ offer to help.

“It’s admirable for Mr. Marshall to step back and accept the $35,000,” Cannon said. “And the Shorebirds are so involved in the community — it’s really great that they were willing to help.”

Seeking to address possible concerns that the council had nearly let the deal slip away, Holloway reminded those in attendance that “the county has always had a practice of paying the appraised value” for properties, and the council had only been acting in a responsible manner.

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