OCEAN CITY – With distress, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve the final phase of the 45th Street Village redevelopment that will include outdoor seating and bars at the Shallow Waters restaurant, residential units and new retail space.
On Tuesday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed a proposed project includes a new 10,282-square-foot commercial retail structure. The applicant was Avi Sibony of 45th Street Village, LLC.
Architect Keith Iott explained the site plan also includes the construction of a deck bar with plantable area on the south side of Shallow Waters Restaurant, which currently exists on the western side of the property on the bay. Additionally, a proposed boardwalk area is proposed with some seating, two different bar areas and undefined seating along the bulkhead that will also be a plantable area to comply with Critical Area and Stormwater regulations.
“It will likely be a part of Shallow Waters but it is yet to be determined. There is a hope a pedestrian promenade will eventually be built to connect to the back of the Convention Center one day,” Iott added.
The Roland E. Powell Convention Center is located on the bay a few blocks to the south.
The other aspect to the site plan is where the current Sunsations and what was originally the restaurant, Flavors of Italy, on Coastal Hwy. a portion of the second floor will be removed to allow for additional retail space. Also a separate entrance will be added to serve three new apartments in that building. There will be a two-bedroom apartment on the second level and two, three-bedroom apartments on the third level.
The new retail area will replace the last remaining piece of the original buildings at 45th Street Village on southern side. It is yet to be defined as to what retail will be put in place.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the shopping center totals 47,753 square feet. According to the Mixed-Use Code, of that total 25 percent can be used for restaurant space with the same parking ratio as the shopping center, which is one parking space per 225 feet. Anything above that 25 percent credit for restaurant space has to have one parking space per 100 square feet.
“They have a substantial amount of restaurant space in that shopping center exceeding the 25 percent allocation, so they have to provide more parking for the additional square feet of restaurant,” Smith said.
Smith furthered the project also applies for Special Bayside Regulations that allows for a 20-percent reduction of parking for mixed-uses.
“Because of the 25 percent credit, 11,938 square feet of restaurant use is the same as the shopping center of one space per 225 feet. They have around 16,000 more square feet of restaurant space that is one space per 100 feet,” Smith said. “With all that said, plus the apartments, they have to provide 314 parking spaces based on the shopping center and residential use but because they became a mixed-use project they were given a 20-percent reduction that reduced it by 61 parking spaces, so instead of providing 314 spaces they will provide 252 required spaces. They are providing 275, so they will provide more than what the reduced amount is.”
Commission member Lauren Taylor argued the project did not meet the definition of a mixed use.
“This is a restaurant complex that happens to have a retail store. That is a whole different concept than what the legislation was originally planned for,” she said.
Representing Sibony, attorney Joseph Moore, argued the location is unique in what commercial space is left in Ocean City.
“Back in July, I wrote Will Esham [Planning and Zoning attorney] a two-page opinion letter talking about the fact that mixed-use is not defined in Ocean City and you all rejected that. I am going to call on you all to comply with the Code of Ocean City. The fact is we have a mixed-use development, and therefore we are providing 275 parking spaces,” he said.
Moore furthered the property allows for nine million square feet of buildable space, but the total development comes to 1,073,000 square feet.
“We are not jamming a use into our parking area. We are providing an access of the parking that is required by the code,” he said. “We have a unique facility. You all have seen the type of development that Mr. Sibony has put there so far. It is a huge upscale to what 45th Street Village used to look like and we want to continue that trend.”
Commission Chair Pam Buckley agreed the site plan does not meet the intent of the mixed-use district.
“However, I am sufficiently satisfied with the fact that it is a unique situation and it could have so much more to be developed there” she said.
Acting Planning and Zoning Commission attorney Chris Mancini urged the commission to state the basis of the denial if that is the direction it was heading.
“If you are going to approve it, then you are basically indicating that it is in compliance with the code, but if you are going to deny it then you need to be specific as to the nature of why you are denying it. Whether you believe it is in violation with the code or whether you think it is just not an appropriate site plan,” Mancini said.
Commission member Chris Shanahan made a motion to approve the site plan and the parking calculations.
According to Shanahan, who is co-owner of K-Coast Surf Shop, brick and mortar retail is growing 1.5 percent a year while Internet retail grows 15 percent a year.
“I look at this project from more of an economic market point of view than neighborhood. The guy is trying to develop something that he can make money on and move forward with. My hat goes off to him for even wanting to do retail knowing the statistics. It is tough out there … to build a 10,000-square-foot retail store takes a lot of guts and Avi [Sibony] knows what he is doing, so he is going to do it right,” he said.
Shanahan believed the project does fall under the title of mixed-use.
“If people come to this place, they are going to stay for a while. I think he [Sibony] is counting on people going to the restaurants and bars but also patronize the retail stores. The retail is probably the draw … isn’t that the point of a mixed-use?” he said.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve with commission member Peck Miller excusing himself from the discussion because of an affiliation with the project and member Palmer Gillis abstaining.
Following the vote, the commission was in consensus the code regarding the mixed-use district needs to be revisited.
“They [commission] still have heart burn over it,” Smith said on Thursday. “They know technically he [Sibony] has met the letter of the law but they don’t believe it met the intent of the mixed-use law because it is not enough of a mixed-use. They can’t argue it so they went ahead and voted on it. It would take a code amendment.”