Ongoing Condo Project On Bay Debated At City Hall

OCEAN CITY – The City Council faced further concerns and complaints regarding the Rivendell condominium project at Tuesday’s work session as they fielded questions and comments from residents of a nearby condominium.

Bay Princess Condo Association President Shirley Eshleman attended the meeting as a representative of the Bay Princess Condominiums.

“I have some unhappy owners at the Bay Princess,” she said as she came before the council.

Eshleman informed the council that Rivendell officials had attended the group’s annual condo association meeting in 2004 in an attempt to explain and further clarify the Rivendell project plans. Since that time, however, Eshleman feels the project has not gone in the direction that was promised.

The Rivendell project was approved in 2004 to include 88 units and a new Hobbit Restaurant. The building was to be seven and nine stories tall with a shadow that would be cast no greater than the one cast by a five-story building. The project also promised not to affect the Triton Trumpet condos to the south, the Bay Princess Condos to the north, the commercial shopping center to the east, or the wetlands neighboring the west side. Recently there has been concern that these qualifications have not been maintained.

Blaine Smith, Zoning Administrator, came before the council to address any concerns relevant to the issues this week.

“We’re very confident that the building is where it belongs,” he said as the discussion began.

Smith assured the council that the wetlands have been complied with, that the shadow test had been passed and that the size was as promised.

Eshleman disagreed, bringing another point of view to the table. Eshleman explained the concerns, both past and present that the Bay Princess Condominiums were having, including size and height, location, parking adequacy, shadow fall and set back. Of these concerns, height and shadow fall seemed to cause the most debate and contention.

“How it went from a seven-story building to what it is today is my question,” she asked.

She reminded the council that the original plans had called for a seven- and nine-story building and pointed out through photographic evidence that the building is now eight and 10 stories tall. Eshleman explained that the northwest corner contains four stories of parking garage with six more stories of condos, totaling 10 stories. Similarly the northeast end contains two stories for the restaurant and six stories of condos, totaling eight stories. Smith explained that the 15-foot ceilings of the first floor of the restaurant make it appear taller but that it was drawn like that from the beginning. He also said that although the number of stories has changed, the footage had remained the same.

“Is the building built as it was presented?,” Councilman Jim Hall questioned.

Smith said that the only difference was the present absence of a rooftop pool and the change from a rounded corner on the northeast corner to a squared off corner. The squared corner resulted in debate from both Eshleman and the council.

Councilman Joseph Mitrecic concluded that the change from round to square added more square footage to the building and that it was a change that should have been brought before the council.

Councilman Jay Hancock addressed the issue of aesthetics, pointing out that the rounded corner provided the building with a unique look, not the overwhelming concrete block look that is swallowing up Ocean City. Hancock also pointed out that it was the aesthetic component that sold many people on the project.

“It didn’t look like a concrete block,” he said, “and now it looks like a concrete block.”

Smith assured the council that upon completion, the building would still maintain the promised aesthetic quality.

The shadow study was also contended after Smith claimed that the shadow fell within proper alignment. According to Smith, a shadow study was performed on June 1 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., both times falling within proper alignment. Eshleman questioned why the test was not performed in March or September when the sun was not directly overhead. As the council agreed with Eshleman, Smith admitted that a shadow may be more apt to hit neighboring buildings in September. He suggested a projection by GIS be done to test the shadow in other months.

Eshleman was not the only neighbor at the meeting voicing her opinions and concerns with the project; Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips spoke on behalf of another neighbor, the wetlands. Phillips voiced concern over the maintenance of the wetlands and the silt fencing. According to Phillips, the silt fencing provided around the building was not adequate and that “the fencing is continuously being pounded down.” She also said that there had been a mistake at the state level and that through no fault of the owner, the construction on the wetlands had been delineated incorrectly.

“There is currently work being done to rebuild the affected marsh,” she said.

Neither Smith nor the council was aware of the incorrect delineation but agreed something needed to be done about the silt fencing.

Smith addressed allegations of encroachment upon wetlands explaining that a license had been granted allowing the Hobbit deck to go into the buffer setback area of the wetlands but that the license had been received in exchange for enhancements of the wetlands.

The council agreed that this was yet another example of the close examination needed when building on the bayside. The council also agreed that better presentations needed to be made.

“You don’t get a real perception of what this building is going to look like as it sits in its neighborhood,” said Hancock.

The council decided to conclude the meeting and address some of the Bay Princess concerns by making plans for the future. Presently the member of a condominium who receives a letter of notification about nearby projects is the person who receives the water bill. The council made a motion to contact everyone in the condominium that is affected by the project. The council hopes this will provide residents affected by large projects increased awareness and more time to prepare. The motion passed with a unanimous vote from the council.