Close Menu
Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Cohen defends Comp. Planning Committee

(Aug. 13, 2015) After a number of concerns were brought up during the last regular OPA Board of Directors meeting, Comprehensive Plan Committee Chair Steve Cohen is speaking out about the direction of the committee’s $16,500 study with Salisbury University group BEACON.
During the July 30 meeting, Director Pat Renaud, the liaison to the committee, said he had not received an update on the study, which was approved by the board in March.
In addition, Director Tom Terry said the committee had not provided meeting minutes since 2013.
Cohen said that turnover and turmoil within the committee, including frequent changes at the chair position, made it difficult to produce minutes from meetings. He said the addition of Facilities Manager Jerry Aveeta and Dr. Memo Diriker, director of BEACON, have stabilized the committee.
“What happened in the past is in the past, so for the last two meetings we had minutes,” Cohen, a retired attorney and currently a real estate agent with Hileman Real Estate, said. “We finally have a plan.”
Cohen said the committee’s comprehensive study would “decide what the future of Ocean Pines is going to look like.” Aveeta will then work on a capital improvement plan based on the comprehensive study and that will fold in with the $31,800 financial reserves study the board approved last month.
The three reports are commonly referred to as the “three-legged stool.”
On the comprehensive plan front, Cohen said the committee came up with a list of 90 names that they sent to Diriker, who is conducting phone interviews with each person about their vision of the future of Ocean Pines.
Some have complained about the composition of the list, which includes five current board members, as well as retiring directors Marty Clarke and Sharyn O’Hare, as well as a large number of Ocean Pines employees and others who do not own property in the community.
“There is some consternation that only property owners could be stakeholders, and our argument is that stakeholders could be real estate agents, bankers, plumbers,” Cohen said. “Anybody who deals with Ocean Pines to me is a stakeholder, not just an owner.”
Cohen said the list contained, “anybody that we could think of.”
“We weren’t aiming for any particular people,” he said. “Jerry gave us all the employees. We got the board of directors – anybody that we knew that we could get a telephone number or an email.”
Cohen added that the administrative office declined to give the committee a full list of property owners.
The committee will discuss the results of the phone interviews during a meeting on Friday at 8 a.m. in the Administrative Building’s conference room. Next, the committee will set up a pair of closed forums with a group drawn from the original list of 90 names.
“The reason they’re closed is because we want people to tell us the truth,” Cohen said. “It’s like going to a doctor. If you’ve got the press or anybody there, they might not open up.”
The first forum, tentatively set for next week, would include what Cohen called “movers and shakers.”
“Whether it’s politicians, whether it’s employees – somebody who is there all the time,” he said, adding between six and a dozen people would make up that panel.
A second group, he said, would consist of “the average person on the street.”
“We haven’t figured out how we’re going to do that yet – that’s what we’re going to talk about Friday,” Cohen said.
Finally, a “results” meeting is tentatively set for late August/early September.
“The whole idea is to get planning for Ocean Pines, because it seems to us if you yell loud enough you get what you want, but how does it affect the entire neighborhood?” Cohen said.
As an example, Cohen sited the new Manklin Meadows complex.
“Do we need it? Is it a priority? Is the population there? Those are the types of questions we’re asking,” he said. “Once we get those questions, Jerry will decide what the priorities are.”
What BEACON brings to the table, according to Cohen, is a wealth of computer data on population trends.
“He has census information, he has information from credit card purchases – they won’t tell you who bought diapers, but they will tell you how many diapers were bought in Ocean Pines,” he said. “And he’ll tell us what that means.
“If it wasn’t for Dr. Diriker, I don’t know if we could’ve gotten this done,” Cohen added. “We just don’t have the data and the facilities.”
A final report is due before the board by Oct. 31. Cohen said the board would then have the option to pursue what he called “phase two” of the study.
“The idea is to get the board reviewing this every year,” he said. “This is not etched in stone – it’s progressive.”
Previously, Cohen said, studies like those included in the “three-legged stool” were conducted independently.
“They were done and forgotten,” he said. “You want every year to say, ‘this is where we are.’ We may have a five-year plan for the beach club, but something else may happen. We only have a limited amount of money.”
Cohen believes the work the committee does will help keep Ocean Pines competitive.
“Our neighbor is getting old and they’re building a lot of new seaside neighborhoods,” he said. “We need to be able to compete with those seaside neighborhoods.”
He also said drafting a comprehensive plan in a homeowner’s association means something different than it does in a municipality.
“When Salisbury or Berlin talks about a comprehensive plan, they talk about growth,” he said. “We don’t have any growth.”
Cohen said the committee would likely hold monthly meetings following the Oct. 31 deadline, usually on the last Friday of each month.