OC Council Upholds Project’s Stop Work Order

OCEAN CITY – The Rivendell project has seen its fair share of problems along the road to completion and faced several issues of contention, but the controversy reached a pinnacle this week with the Mayor and Council denying the request to lift the stop work order on the building.

At the end of July, it came to the attention of Blaine Smith, Zoning Administrator, as well as the owners of the Rivendell project, BPG Residential VI, LLC, that the building was five feet taller than what the plans called for. As a result, Smith issued a stop work order, preventing any further work from being done on the top floor.

The owners of the building are now in the process of preparing and filing an application to the Planning Commission to amend and modify the Planned Overlay District (POD) development plan to change the building height to 99 feet.

BPG’s attorney Brian Peter Cosby explained that during the amendment process, the company would like to continue with construction in hopes that the amendment will be granted.

“Let us proceed so we don’t suffer such a large economic loss in the interim,” Cosby said to the Mayor and Council.

According to Cosby, the owners stand to lose between $500,00 and $1 million.

Cosby explained that there is no reason for a stop work order and that allowing work on the project would be of no detriment to the town or to its people. The only potential danger could be to the owners themselves if they are not granted the amended height.

“It is more punitive than necessary to keep the stop work order in affect,” Cosby said.

The council immediately questioned why, if they had their first inkling of a height issue in May, the builders did not come forward at that time.

Keith Iott, architect for the project, explained how the issue came to the forefront. In May, the height issue was brought before the council after neighbors voiced complaints that the building was 10 stories tall instead of the purposed nine stories. At that time, it was decided that it was semantics and not an error in the design. The claim was that although there was an additional story, the building was still the same height as it was supposed to be.

Iott explained that the height discrepancy was not discovered until last week, when it was realized that the building was five feet taller than the height that was outlined in the POD plan.

Rob Buccini, co-founder of the BPG group, said the company had no idea the plan had been presented at a height five feet less.

According to Buccini, the land was purchased 14 to 15 months ago during the final round of permit drawing.  Buccini explained the building was constructed based on those permit drawings.

Buccini claims that the current building is only five to six inches taller than the permit drawing height, but when compared to the POD plan the current building height is five feet taller.

“We haven’t made any changes to the plan since we bought it,” Buccini said.

Councilwoman Mary Knight found it hard to believe that with a project as expensive as Rivendell, height would not be double-checked. “I would think you would know exactly how tall the building was going to be,” she said.

Buccini maintained the company checked the height on the final permit plans, but not on the POD drawings. “It is a series of unfortunate issues where permit drawings were different than POD drawings,” he said.

Cosby reiterated that his client wished to go ahead with construction in hopes it would save the company money and get the amended height in the POD plans at the Planning Commission meeting.

Cosby also pointed out that although five feet sounds significant, that the shadow impact study on the current construction shows no substantial impact to the surrounding buildings.

“There is no need to keep this stop work order in affect to protect anybody, and if my client is willing to take the risk, than why make him lose another $500,000 to $1 million,” Cosby said.

Councilwoman Nancy Howard said she was leery of lifting the stop work order despite Cosby’s confidence that BPG will be granted the amended height at the hearing.

Councilman Jim Hall explained that he was unwilling to give the building any leeway until the issues with the neighbors were cleared up. “It’s hard for me to say keep working,” Hall said.

Hall told Buccini that he needed to work out the problems with the upset neighbors before the council could allow them to keep working. “These people are really, really upset about this building,” Hall said.

Iott and Buccini both assured the council that they would be more than willing to sit down with the neighbors who are discontented with the construction of Rivendell.

“We’d be more than happy to explain to them what transpired from an engineering standpoint,” Iott said.

Knight agreed that the neighbors were unhappy with the project thus far. “They don’t feel you’ve been good neighbors in this whole building project,” she said.

The council voted unanimously, with Councilman Jay Hancock absent, to not lift the stop work order. Council members agreed that when and if the situation with the neighbors is resolved, then and only then would they consider lifting the order.

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