Wicomico council hesitant to accept land gift

Possible uses for 234 acres offered as a donation to Wicomico County will be discussed when the County Council meets next month.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, Council President John Cannon asked Assistant County Administrator Weston Young to provide council members will ideas for usage of the land, appraised at $1.6 million.

The site is off Connelly Mill Road, north of the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex and owned, in part, by Salisbury lawyer Steven Smethurst. Donors stipulated the land must be accepted this year, for the tax benefit.

The land is within city limits, with no utilities. Portions of it were used as fill dirt borrow areas to help build the bypass. It is zoned R-8, a city zoning that allows five lots per acre, Young explained.

It is premature to specify use for the land, he said, although there is potential for ballfield expansion. Because it was used as a borrow area, it could have material suitable for other construction projects or to cover the county landfill, he said.

Using it for outdoor recreational activities, such as off-road vehicle or BMX riding is also possible, although the county would be liable if anybody was injured.

A portion of the land is over the Paleo Channel, the county’s water source, “so keeping that protected helps protect the water supply there,” Young said.

He suggested the council meet with Director of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Steve Miller and Cannon agreed.

Cannon said necessary improvements to the infrastructure have to be determined, as well as costs.

Young said he has driven his Jeep on the roads on the property and determined regrading is needed on the north side. A creek runs along the south side, so that area wouldn’t be suitable for ball fields, Councilman Joe Holloway said.

Agreeing, Young said the more valuable property is in the northern section. It could be used to expand the park and add biking and hiking trails, he said, although a pedestrian walkway would have to be built over the creek.

“I appreciate we could do this, we could do that, but … we have all this other land we aren’t doing anything with,” he said, using, as an example, Pirates Wharf, bought with the state’s  Program Open Space funds.

“The county has a pretty good track record of acquiring property,” Kilmer said.

Holloway called being able to use it as a borrow pit “a stretch” because it would be difficult to get permits.

“If it was worth that much money it would probably have been sold,” Holloway said.

“It’s a piece of industrial property in the city. If it was suitable for something, I would have thought it would have been sold. Anyway, a million-dollar gift is hard to turn down, I would think. You also look at, anything anybody gives you is really not free because you’re going to have expense in taking care of it. For one thing, you’re going to lose tax revenue,” he said.

“Here’s more land going off the tax role.  Back to Marc’s statements, we’ve got land east of Salisbury. We’ve got land west of Salisbury. We’ve got land south of Salisbury. We’ve got all this land we’ve acquired over the years with all these visions and nothing has ever been done to it,” Holloway said.

“How much land should be county own?”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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