OCEAN CITY – Ocean City officials this week moved forward with the next step in a potential condemnation process for a parcel of bayfront land needed to accommodate a new public boat ramp, but not before one last impassioned plea from the property owner to allow negotiations to continue.
In 2012, the Mayor and Council approved the development of a new public boat ramp facility at 64th Street including a two-lane ramp, channel dredging, trailer parking and a small comfort station.
The site was chosen because of its proximity to existing town facilities in the area, the commercial elements already surrounding the proposed location and its greater potential access in the center of town. The initial plan called for the new boat ramp to be constructed on property already owned by the town, but last summer, it became apparent the project could not be completed without the acquisition of certain privately owned property because of the placement of a water tower and other utilities near the site.
The ordinance came before the council in late May but the owners of the properties in question, Robert Kirchiro and Matin Maghsouzadeh, pleaded with the council for more time to negotiate and the first reading was postponed.
The town had the properties appraised and has used the appraisal as a jumping off point of sorts for the negotiations. In recent weeks, the negotiations have continued in earnest and appear to be making headway, but the ordinance returned this month on first reading to allow the council to move forward with condemnation if the property sale talks break down.
Once again, Kirchiro addressed the Mayor and City Council and implored them not to move forward with condemnation. Kirchiro explained the property had been in his family for decades and some progress had been made in recent weeks in the negotiations with City Solicitor Guy Ayres. However, having confidence in Ayres and negotiating efforts, the council voted to pass the ordinance in first reading.
This week the ordinance returned for its second and final reading, and once again Kirchiro and Maghsouzadeh came before the council but this time they argued the private negotiations had become public as they have been approached by a Coldwell Banker agent in regard to the property.
“There has not been a good faith negotiation. There has been a real estate agent that has contacted me about buying this property from me, and he knows all about my private dealings with the city, which surprises me because I don’t know who is telling him but he knows every detail of my negotiations with Mr. Ayres,” said Kirchiro, adding a deal was never materialized out of the conversation.
Councilwoman Mary Knight asserted the first time Kirchiro came before the council was when the door was opened to the property talks.
“This is why we have negotiations behind closed doors. Sir and madam you are the ones who came up and made this public. We did not,” Knight said.
According to Knight, she was easily able to research the time Kirchiro bought the properties and what he paid for them, as well as a situation with the County Tax Assessment Office where Kirchiro petitioned to lower the value of the properties.
“You opened the door to make all this information public, so for you to accuse somebody … that he/she knew details that were private … I take exception to that,” Knight said. “In 2007, when somebody buys 32 lots that are underwater, and they are very aware of the wetlands legislation, they bought those lots knowingly.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who has supported Kirchiro’s pleas in the past, became frustrated with his assertions.
“Sir, I think you have been treated very well by council. You wanted your arguments with council. You had it here a couple weeks ago. We even took it off of the agenda to give you another chance, and this just says you are negotiating with us still. You are still negotiating,” Pillas said.
Maghsouzadeh came before the council to clear the air.
“We are not talking about the purchase time, what kind of property, the price or when we negotiated with the office of assessments. We are talking about what we are negotiating with the city in terms of naming it after his grandfather, what price we want, and the boat slip,” she said. “Those are the types of things we want to talk about … We had a six figure offer and we declined it. It is not the money. We want to be part of the process.”
As he did earlier this month, Councilman Joe Mitrecic explained the ordinance on the table allows for further negotiation before a condemnation will have to take place.
“You have come up here during three consecutive meetings and have said that you are not being treated fairly,” Mitrecic said. “Nobody is taking anything away from you. We are negotiating to buy your property. You will be compensated. If we have to move forward with condemnation, you will be compensated for it …”
Council President Lloyd Martin pointed out negotiations started in February 2012 and the construction of the much needed public boat ramp in Ocean City is still not underway.
The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance in its final passage.