Planning Comm. Okays Project’s Height Amendment

OCEAN CITY – Contention over the Rivendell project reached its pinnacle Tuesday night at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as several of the key players in the Rivendell debate gathered to hash out the dispute over the five-foot height differential and to hear the commission’s ruling on the requested height amendments.

Several voices and opinions were heard Tuesday night, ranging from Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith to project architect Keith Iott to disgruntled neighbors of the project. All interested parties gathered at the scheduled public hearing which lasted over three hours, ending in the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision on the amended planned overlay district (POD) height of 103.95 feet.

Smith opened the public hearing, noting the application from the Buccini-Pollin Group, owners of the Rivendell, to amend the POD height. Smith outlined the events leading up to the hearing.

Informal discussion for the feasibility of the land, located on the bayside between 80th and 81st streets, being used as a POD began in April of 2004, when current owner Tom Heiderman approached the commission. On May 18, 2004, a public hearing was held in regard to the designs of the building. At that time, the project was shown as being 98.67 feet in height.

In November 2004, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the final site plan with a base elevation of 99.34 feet, already eleven inches taller than the original plans. Despite the height discrepancy, the difference was not detected at that time. Smith pointed out that at that time, the pool had been removed from the plans as well as the curved wall. Smith admitted that he did not point out those changes as major items to the commission, which in hindsight he said was a mistake.

Smith explained that the height changed again when the floor-to-floor height was increased seven inches.

“That’s essentially where the five feet came from,” Smith said.

The commission questioned why a change in height, a significant alteration, wouldn’t be pointed out to them.

“I’m not an architect, I’m not an engineer, I can’t be expected to pick up on those changes,” said Commission Chair Pamela Buckley.

In April 2007, issues concerning the height arose amongst neighbors of the project who had been more than displeased with the progress of the building. Smith explained that Charles Barrett of Triton’s Trumpet approached him with concerns that the building was 10 stories instead of the proposed nine stories. Smith explained the building might appear to be 10 stories due to the parking garage, but that the building’s height had not changed.

Neighbors were not satisfied with Smith’s answers or with the answers they had received at a Mayor and Council meeting in June about the building height. In early July, Smith met with residents of the Bay Princess who compared the different plans, indicating to Smith a clear height difference. After having a survey drawn up by Iott, it was proved that the building was indeed 103.95 feet in height, not the 98.67 feet height that was originally approved in the POD plan. A stop work order was issued on the top floor of the building, and the Buccini-Pollin Group filed an application for an amendment to the POD height. In late August, the stop work order was lifted by the City Council, with the Buccini-Pollin Group understanding that it was proceeding at its own risk, with no guarantees of approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Smith also pointed out that while the height is five feet taller, the shadow studies still comply. He also noted two other factors that would be addressed that evening, the dumpster and the air compressors for The Hobbit, the restaurant set to be in the first floor of Rivendell.

Attorney Pete Cosby and Iott spoke on behalf of the applicant to explain how the events had unfolded.

“We’re not talking about the impact of this building… we’re talking about the impact of five feet,” Cosby said, arguing that the extra five feet had no material impact.

Iott explained that the height additions occurred between the POD approval and the final site plan approval.

“The building grew in engineering necessity,” Iott said, explaining the height additions. “This is a very complex building.”

When asked his opinion on the height change Iott said, “I don’t think the five feet has an adverse affect on the neighbors. … I would have brought it to Blaine if I knew it would have constituted a major change of the POD.”

At this week’s hearing, neighbors were given the chance to voice their opinions, which resulted in numerous comments against the project, coupled with the numerous letters of opposition that had been sent in and noted for the record.

“I’m here to address the fact that the law has been broken in this situation,” said Barrett.

Carol and Ken Anders, Bay Princess residents, voiced their adamant opposition to the project and all those involved.

“Once upon a time Tommy Heiderman and his Rivendell project told his neighbors and the City Council a fairy tale,” Carol Anders began, explaining that when the project began they were promised by Heiderman that it would result in better views for them along with other aspects that never came to fruition.

Besides blaming Heiderman, Carol Anders also pointed blame at the Buccini-Pollin Group, the town, and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“None of the decisions have favored the Bay Princess and Triton’s Trumpet owners … you never even once tried to protect our property rights,” she said, noting her feelings that illegal actions were taken and requesting that the Planning and Zoning Commission do a full investigation of what happened.

She also noted her suspicions over Dr. Geoffrey Robbins’ timing in leaving the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Ken Anders weighed in as well, pointing out that they had been the ones who had discovered the discrepancies in the plans. “Who’s the watchdog, why is it that the citizens are doing this,” he asked. “This process has been an absolute disgrace.”

Shirley Eshleman, president of the Bay Princess Condo Association, noted her objections to the air compressors and the dumpster as well, but stated that the Bay Princess was not in opposition to the height due to concessions that had been made recently by the Buccini-Pollin Group in negotiations.

Heiderman, owner of The Hobbit, defended the need for air compressors, explaining that there was no other place for them.

“If I could move them I would do that,” he said, explaining their ineffectiveness on the roof and adding that DNR would not allow for them to be moved to the bay or south side.

After taking a five-minute break for deliberations, the commission returned with a decision to approve the application for amendment.

Commission member Lauren Taylor pointed out that if the 103 feet had been requested months ago, as it should have been, then the commission would have approved it, explaining that the five feet was not making a major difference.

“As far as height goes, I’m fine with five feet,” said Commission member Peck Miller.

The commission agreed that although the owners of the project should have brought the issue to light from the beginning, the height was not having an adverse affect. The commission voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the application.

The request for the dumpster was also addressed, with a unanimous vote to favorably recommend to the Mayor and Council the relocation of the dumpster with the understanding that two parking spaces would be lost.

The air compressor issue was not resolved however, with the commission agreeing to give the neighbors and the Buccini-Pollin Group more time to negotiate on that matter as they had done with the dumpster and other issues.