Friday, March 14 – Council Stalls Early Opening Request for Hobbit

OCEAN CITY –Rivendell was a topic for discussion once again this week, and although decisions centered on the possibility of having The Hobbit Restaurant open earlier than scheduled, the City Council remained cautious about making any decision regarding the project that caused months of contention.

Restaurant owner Tommy Heiderman approached the City Council this week in hopes of gaining their permission to open the restaurant before the Rivendell project obtains it certificate of occupancy.

“Right now they are on schedule to get their CO,” said Heiderman, explaining that although the CO for the project may be granted in time, he does not want to have the restaurant opening delayed in the event that the project is delayed for reasons beyond his control.

“I may not get open until April 23, but if I can get open I’d like to know that it’s okay with this Mayor and Council,” said Heiderman.

The overall project is currently on schedule to be completed by mid-April, but mitigating circumstances could alter those plans.

The council presented Heiderman with a list of eight items that still need to be addressed, including the road repairs and HV/AC screening. “Some of those things are not in my control. Those things that are in my control, they will be done,” said Heiderman.

Some Councilmembers reminded Heiderman about the public backlash about some elements of the project. “As you know Tommy, we took an awful lot of grief over this project,” said Council member Nancy Howard, referring to the long list of complaints the council received from neighbors. Controversy over the building reached a pinnacle last year when it was discovered that he building was taller than the originally approved height.

Despite that, Howard agreed that if the building met the life safety criteria and if items on the list within Heiderman’s control were completed, he should be allowed to open the restaurant early.

However, Councilman Jim Hall was not prepared to just sign off on the plan, citing the problems with the project already.

“I’ve taken enough heat for this project,” said Council member Jim Hall, remaining leery of allowing any aspect of the project to open early. “There’s a lot of stuff still on this list that’s not done. I think it’ll cause a lot of outcry.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin said it was reasonable for Heiderman to ask for an early opening date for the restaurant given the popularity of the establishment.

“I think that this is not an unreasonable request from you,” said Council member Lloyd Martin. “The neighbors didn’t want The Hobbit going away. Now we’re giving it back to them, and before the building gets filled up.”

Others, however, wanted to wait for the CO to be issued before allowing the restaurant to open.

“You shouldn’t allow people to go into a building that’s not finished to eat dinner,” said Council member Margaret Pillas, noting the safety factors of having patrons walk through an unfinished construction site.

Heiderman pointed out that while the condo part of the building might not be completed, outside construction is finished, providing a safe area for patrons to traverse.

“I don’t feel like being inundated again with unhappy residents,” said Council member Mary Knight.

“The neighbors have been continually asking, ‘when are you going to open’. I’m very confused why you wouldn’t want me to open,” said Heiderman.

Public safety has to supersede the desire for the restaurant to re-open, said Pillas. “It’s our responsibility to make sure public safety is in tact,” she said.

Council member Hall suggested that Heiderman return to the April 1 meeting, when the overall project was further along and the council could get a clearer picture of the building’s status before making any decisions. Heiderman agreed to return with an updated report on April 1.

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