Civic Center lot vote expected

The County Council of Salisbury is expected to vote today on a proposal to buy five acres across from the parking-starved Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.
The offer has been on the table for months, but the council is poised to make a final decision this morning. The property owner, Salisbury Mall Associates, is selling the land for $1.5 million and the county expects to someday develop it into 500 parking spaces.

Supporters and critics of the lot purchase squared off at a public hearing earlier this month. For proponents, such as restaurant owners and tourism officials, the purchase is a slam dunk. In their view, not only does the land address a critical need, it would be bought entirely with state Program Open Space funds, not local tax dollars. Program Open Space funds are generated through a tax on real estate transactions statewide.

At the public hearing, critics of the purchase were quick, however, to point out that Program Open Space funds still represent the use of taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, critics said $300,000 an acre is too high a price to pay for real estate in the current market. Additionally, critics questioned the wisdom of investing money in a parking lot rather than a different purpose.

Council Vice President Sheree Sample-Hughes said there is no doubt the Civic Center needs the land. In fact, the lot now for sale already fills up with cars whenever there is a popular event at the Civic Center, such as Disney on Ice this past weekend. Salisbury Mall Associates, though, has told the county that it must start paying $10,000 a month for people to park there if the land sale doesn't go through.
County Attorney Ed Baker said the land acquisition must be finalized by April 1.
The city of Salisbury, Maryland
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