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


Dollar General deal appears dead

(March 19, 2015) Property owner Mike Hamad is crying foul after the Berlin Planning Commission derailed plans for a new Dollar General store last week.
The commission voted to deny final site plan approval of the store, which would have been located on Old Ocean City Boulevard near Healthway Drive in Berlin.
Hamad sold the parcel, contingent on site approval, to Dollar General.
In September, the issue of the store was raised during a mayor and council meeting when Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the town’s board of zoning appeals granted a parking variance on the proposed 9,100-square foot site to allow for 41 parking spaces rather than the 49 spaces required by the town code for a site of that size.
A final decision on the site was delayed last month after the planning commission went into closed session to discuss the matter and opted to gather more information.
Two weeks later, after neighboring property owners, including representatives from Atlantic General Hospital and the owners of an adjoining 14-acre parcel on the corner of Old Ocean City Boulevard and Route 113 weighed in, the commission rejected the plan.
“The town knew from September that Dollar General wants to go there,” Hamad said. “Did they send the surrounding properties any letters telling them what’s going on? I know in Ocean City, because I’ve been here for 27 years, normally they ask if anyone has an objection much earlier.”
Hamad also objected to the closed session.
“If they wanted to discuss something, they should have done it in front of everybody,” he said. “They went into executive meeting and they came out and said they wanted to postpone [the vote] because they got a notice from the hospital and from [the owner of] that land that is behind us.
According to Hamad, the issue with the adjacent landowner, a Baltimore area resident, dates back several years. He previously had his attorney send a letter to the property owner asking for clarity about the matter of easements and rights of way coming out of the property.
“His attorney sent us a nasty letter back saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to do nothing and if you do something we’re going to sue you,’” Hamad said.
Meanwhile, Hamad said, “some councilwoman [in Berlin] spread the word around that she’s the one who called the hospital.”
“She called the hospital and bragged about it, ‘Hey, I’m the one who called the hospital.’ I think somebody’s influencing [the planning commission],” he said. “Somebody is protecting somebody,” he said. “Somebody doesn’t want the Dollar General there.”
Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the commission “did what they had to do” based on safety concerns.
Critics of the Dollar General plan said the store would have increased traffic in an already congested area, while proponents argued that the State Highway Administration had already given its approval.
The agency, Engelhart argued, rarely denies access.   
“If they deny you access to a parcel then they have to buy it,” he said. “[Denying access] would make your parcel worthless, which they hardly ever do.”
Hamad countered that the town’s comprehensive plan calls for development of Route 346, and that “whether there’s traffic or not, that’s up to the state to give an entrance or not.”
“That’s a state road [and] these people went to the state and the state gave their okay,” he said.
Late into the meeting, Engelhart said the developer suggested a compromise could be worked with the owners of the adjoining parcel.
“That whole area could be one access point [off the highway],” Engelhart said. “That’s the way it should have been.
“At the last minute that’s what the developer was saying, ‘we’ll work on something like that,” Engelhart continued. “Well, then what do you need an approval for until you have that in place? That’s really what it came down to. It was like a big, circular argument.”
The other issue, concerning right of way, was “for the lawyers to figure out,” Engelhart said.
Engelhart has 15 days from the decision to uphold or reverse the ruling of the commission. At press time no decision had been made public.
Hamad, meanwhile, vowed to develop the land and suggested that appearances influenced the commission’s decision.
“This land is going to be developed no matter what,” he said. “They can’t deny us that. I’m just frustrated with these people. The developer spent a lot of money doing all these studies since September.
“At the last hour, those guys were there to show them their design and were supposed to give their approval. At the last minute the hospital comes in and complains.
“The bottom line is they don’t want a Dollar Store,” Hamad said. “The way I see it they don’t want a Dollar Store because it brings low-income people and they don’t want it over there. Nobody wants to say it, but I’m going to say it. I think they just don’t want a Dollar Store. If I were to go and put a doctor’s office over there, I don’t think they would object.”