OCEAN CITY — A rare public appearance by 45th Street Village property owner Avi Sibony could lead to some major changes to his proposed future plans to the site.
Sibony, who also owns the area’s many Sunsations stores, hired Keith Iott of Iott Architecture and Engineering in Salisbury to design a major overhaul to the mid-town shopping plaza including a 12- and 17-story hotel and condominium complex in the back of the plaza, as well as a total renovation to the existing retail spaces.
Several weeks ago, Iott was given a bit of the proverbial “business” from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which was displeased with the current layouts of the site proposal, which included two new large retail spaces in the front of the plaza.
In August, the project had received approval on a minor change for the site, which would allow 7,500 square feet of retail square footage. What the commission seemed to take exception with the newly revised plan was not only an increase in the square footage to almost 20,000 square feet of retail space but also the design of the retail space, which Chair Pam Buckley called “too box on box for my liking.
“We have to look at this as one entire package,” said Buckley. “Thus far, we were okay with the minor change, and now we are back to where we were at the very beginning, as you have to give a little in the back if you want more in the front. More retail space is desirable but it needs to work together globally throughout the site.”
Iott conceded that the planned 12- and 17-story structures in the back of the complex would not become a reality in his lifetime.
“You sold me on it in August when you said you were going to put in 7,500 or 8,000 square feet of retail space, and that’s why we considered it a minor change,” said Commissioner Peck Miller, “but when you come back here and say that you want to almost triple that number, I consider that a major change.”
The debate seemed to upset Sibony, who at one point got fed up and simply said, “fine, I just want to give the whole thing up then.”
Despite the efforts of commission law counselor William Esham to calm and explain to Sibony why the board had taken the stance that it had, Sibony became a bit animated in expressing his frustration with the project.
“That 12- and 17-story structure at one time we had financing for it, and now it has dropped and it’s never going to come back,” said Sibony. “There’s about 400 hotels in California that are being sold for 50 cents on the dollar, so no one is going to buy a brand new one when they can go buy one for half price. The 12 and 17 story will never happen, because those days are over.”
Sibony and the board did come to a bit of a compromise after about an hour of debate, as Sibony agreed to lower the planned 12- and 17-story structures in the back of the complex to eight stories each.
“That might actually be something that I could get behind, because you are giving up height in the back and you might be able to be granted a bit more in the back,” said Miller.
Essentially, the commission will be seeing more of Iott and Sibony in the next few weeks, as it seems apparent that changes to the original plan are substantial, but the two sides seem to be getting a little bit closer on something they can agree on.
“I’ve been trying the last three years to fix the shopping center and spent $700,000 into fixing it and it’s just not going to work. I have tenants in, then they fail, and they leave and then I have to start over again,” said Sibony. “The only thing I have to do is bulldoze the entire thing and build a few good retail spaces in there, but right now, that shopping center is dead. I’ve tried to save it, but it is dead. It’s either going to stay dead or we can make it such an attractive space that is unlike anything you’ve ever had before back there.”