Ocean City Today

County appeals board says no Jeep course at Deer Run

Owners will consider other options rather than give up on off-roading proposal
By Brian Gilliland | Nov 16, 2017

(Nov. 17, 2017) Ed Colbert, owner of the former Deer Run golf course, thought he was offering a solid, family-friendly business to the county when he suggested converting a portion of his 170-acre property into woodland trails for Jeep enthusiasts.

His neighbors didn’t quite see it that way and, at last Thursday’s Board of Zoning Appeals session, successfully blocked the special exception Colbert needed to proceed with the idea.

The four neighbors of the former golf course hired attorney Mark Cropper to plead their case against the feared noise and other concerns. Cropper brought in several experts that agreed with the neighbors’ position.

Ultimately, the vote was 3-3, with Joseph Green, David Dypsky and Glenn Irwin in favor, and Larry Fykes, Robert Purncell and Larry Duffy opposed. Board member Thomas Babcock was absent.

In the case of a tie vote, the request for a special exception is defeated, though Colbert said he was weighing options so that he might continue with his business idea.

“We can’t do anything commercial like put up houses,” Colbert said. “And the only offers to buy the land were very low.”

Colbert said his son-in-law, Justin Hearne, who is former military and a current Jeep enthusiast, had the idea to create off-roading opportunities using the former golf course as the venue.

“There are six or eight Jeep clubs in the area with no place to go,” Colbert said. “Except Assateague, which can be a five-hour drive for some members. We laid out three courses and it made all the sense in the world.”

Colbert said Jeep enthusiasts are some of the area’s most polite and respectful, and pointed to the recent determination of the Ocean City Council that deemed Jeep Week the least offensive of its slate of car show events.

Colbert said the course would be low impact, and tightly controlled to reduce the possibility of trouble. Alcohol, for example, would be banned from the site, and a speed limit of 10 miles per hour would be enforced.

“No mud, no racing, no noise,” Colbert said. “These are perfect customers and middle-class people. I’m just flabbergasted at the pushback.”

The pushback begins with how the property is zoned: A-2 Agricultural. Cropper said outdoor recreational activities were more appropriate in commercially zoned areas, and the use of agricultural property in this way wasn’t well defined in the county code. He said the case is for the county commissioners to decide, in that even a transient use — since the facility was only supposed to be open from April until October — would depend on whether the commissioners felt it was appropriate in an A-2 zone.

There were also environmental concerns, since the land contains wetlands important to drainage and wildlife that are more delicate than other agriculturally zoned land, Cropper said.

At the end, this was enough to convince half of the board.

The only other place in the county where this type of use would be appropriate is at the former Tyson Plant in Berlin, now known as Berlin Falls Park, Cropper said.

Jeep Week formerly had events at the Tyson Plant, but is no longer allowed to since the transition to a park.

“We’re looking at other options, and we have to study it,” Colbert said. “It caught me off guard, since I’ve always tried to be a good neighbor.”

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