City Planners Critical Of Large-Scale Projects
09/15/2005 OCEAN CITY – It has been five months since the City Council voted to lift a moratorium on planned overlay districts (PODs), and now the floodgates have opened as three large projects are on deck, but local planning officials said each one failed the first test.
Three large-scale projects were presented to the Planning Commission during a Tuesday night meeting and, even though, each was an informal discussion set up to guide the builder in the right direction before moving forward, planning officials had some choice words for every developer as height on the projects was an issue and seemed to grow with each request.
The former Cropper Concrete property on 1st Street and the Ocean City Health and Racquet Club on 61st Street will both vastly change the skyline for drivers entering town on the Routes 50 and 90 bridges. The developers of both properties are interested in taking advantage of a POD and constructing significant condominium projects in those areas. In addition to those projects, a third request for the redevelopment of the Ramada Limited on 43rd Street was heard this week by the town’s planning commission.
PODs allow developers exceptions on height restrictions and mixed use on lots in exchange for special conditions the town can impose on a project. Some of the special conditions range from landscaping and physical aesthetics of the building to wider sidewalks and increased setbacks. The council stepped in and put a temporary freeze on the popular POD option last September after council members heard the public outcry to stop the large-scale building in town.
A proposal to construct two 11-story buildings consisting of 165-180 units, 10 townhouses, a common pool area and a bayside Boardwalk was presented by ADC Builders representatives for the former Cropper Concrete property.
Planning Commission Chair Dr. Geoff Robbins felt the proposal had no community benefit and fell short of what the commission envisioned for the landmark property.
“Where’s your mixed use? Do you have any?” asked Robbins. “What are you giving back to the community?”
Robbins said the tall buildings take away the view of the town as people drive into the resort from Route 50. He understood that developers are working with a great deal of land, but thought they could soften the blow.
“Quite frankly, it’s a massive building. It will totally obliterate the view,” said Robbins. “It’s a give-and-take process. It’s always been a ground level vista [and] at this point I’m not happy with it.”
Planning Commission members told developers the highest building they have approved was nine stories and anything over that was a stretch.
“I think that’s an awful lot of building,” said Commissioner Peck Miller. “You can see the town of Ocean City from there and this eliminates that.”
“It’s just a big square,” added Commissioner Pam Buckley. “It’s going to be there for many, many years and there’s no doubt it’s a landmark piece of property.”
Commissioners sent developers back to the drawing board to create a project that was smaller, especially the buildings closest to the bridge and encouraged them to add some type of mixed use such as a coffee shop.
“That was always envisioned to be a mixed-use property in some way,” said Robbins.
Another project that didn’t come up short as far as commercial uses, but was extremely tall, according to commission members, was the redevelopment of the OC Health and Racquet Club on 61st Street. The project called Sante, a Latin term for health would include a day spa, pharmacy, gym, medical offices and open space for yoga classes among other health-related activities. The project would span over four acres, and the Sante would consist of 72 condominium units on 17 floors. The commissioners commended the property owner for the landscaping, commercial uses and stunning appearance of the structure, however, were again concerned with height.
“I don’t think it would get past the public hearing,” said Buckley. “It’s another landmark location coming into Ocean City.”
The commission agreed to work with the developer to meet a compromise, maybe above nine stories, but under the 17 proposed.
“It’s the prettiest project we’ve seen up here. It’s just too tall,” said Miller. “I think we all agree it’s a great project.”
The Ramada Limited on 43rd Street changed ownership in June and developers are working to renovate the current structure and use the POD option to create condominium-hotel rooms. The project encompasses the nearby Super Thrift Food Store and would be a joint venture between both parties. Architect Keith Iott said the condo-hotel-type units are gaining popularity, even though the resort area is somewhat unfamiliar with the concept.
“This type of ownership is extremely popular right now in urban settings especially Miami,” said Iott.
The project would consist of 424 hotel guest suites and make way for several other structures on the property. Again, the commission felt the project offered no benefits to the community and asked Iott to re-work the concept.
“The word superior doesn’t jump out at all to me,” said Miller. “We don’t want to see a parking garage on Coastal Highway.”
“I’m not at all impressed by this,” added Buckley. “I think a small grocery store can go back there.”
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