OCEAN PINES — The Ocean Pines Association (OPA) last week announced it was abandoning any further appeals in an ongoing dispute over a piece of property donated in 2002 for the development of a YMCA in Worcester County after the state’s Court of Special Appeals ruled against the association late last month.
“We got to the point where we were all shaking our heads and wondering how it ever got to this point,” said OPA Board of Directors President Tom Terry this week. “Everyone goes into an agreement acting on good faith, but it didn’t happen in this case.”
Terry said the OPA had practically exhausted its appeal process after the latest ruling by the Court of Special Appeals. The OPA could file for a writ of certiorari, which, if approved could get the case in front of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, but the OPA has decided to pull the plug on any future litigation.
“It comes to the point when you decide it’s just time to walk away and let it go,” he said. “We’re at that point now.”
Attorney Robin Cockey, who represented the Mid-Delmarva YMCA through the lengthy trial and appeal process, said the OPA could seek a writ of certiorari, but the state’s highest court has a fairly low acceptance rate for taking such cases.
“It would probably be a long shot,” he said. “They probably only grant about one in five of the petitions they receive. Their attorneys did a bang up job at the Circuit Court level and again at the appeals level, but it didn’t go their way.”
In what was a complicated situation from the beginning, developer Marvin Steen in 2002 conceptually donated 26 acres of a larger parcel just south of Ocean Pines for the development of a future northern Worcester County YMCA along with an associated Atlantic General Hospital Wellness Center, a new Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce building and other amenities. In exchange, the OPA agreed to provide sewer service for the YMCA property as well as additional sewer service for remainder of the Steen property, which was to be developed with around 60 residential lots.
In September 2002, Ocean Pines voters approved the allocation of water and sewer to the property in a referendum vote. A condition of the water and sewer swap for a future YMCA was that a building permit be secured within five years of the conveyance of the property, or the land would revert back to the ownership of the OPA.
However, years passed and no permits for a future YMCA were issued by the county, largely because of development restraints on the property caused in part by the state’s new Critical Areas laws. Just before the five-year deadline expired, the YMCA obtained a building permit to construct a wildlife observation deck on the property, which it believed satisfied the conditions of the transfer of the property.
However, the OPA disagreed, asserting the observation platform was never part of the plan for the property and that because the YMCA did not obtain a building permit for the proposed 57,000-square-foot facility within the prescribed five-year deadline, ownership of the property should revert back to the OPA.
At an impasse over the technical aspects of the conveyance agreement and the building permit, the OPA filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court seeking the return of the land to the community association. Last January, however, a visiting Worcester County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the YMCA, asserting the language of the original agreement did not rely on a specific type or scope of building permit for the property, only that a building permit be obtained within the five-year window.