Friday, October 31, 2008–Council Grants Developer Year Extension

OCEAN CITY – A local land developer was granted an unprecedented extension to hold-off on building 18 luxury condominiums for another year, leaving the City Council in the middle of a bitter fight between a cautious businessman and some angry neighbors.

At Tuesday’s Mayor and City Council work session, Bob Warfield was granted another year extension, with strict guidelines attached, to finish building his 1111 Edgewater Avenue project, which some neighbors are calling “stonehenge”, describing the concrete bulkhead and foundation that sits currently behind the fenced in construction site. Warfield’s lawyer, Joe Harrison, pleaded to the council for another year extension claiming that being forced to complete the project in a “stale real estate market” would be a “financial disaster.”

“The project is for 18 luxury units, and the town of Ocean City doesn’t need 18 more units on the market. Things in the market are still slower than last year,” he said. “If we are forced to add these units now, it will put unneeded stress on other projects.”

In that area of downtown, Harrison cited that only 16 of 59 possible units have sold and adding 18 more would not be “in his client’s or anyone else’s best interests.”

The project has been a thorn in the side of not only Warfield, but also the council, which has now granted a fourth extension to Warfield, and has heard concerns and complaints about this project from neighboring residents for several years.

The council agreed Tuesday that the market couldn’t support the project, voting 5-1 in President Joe Mitrecic’s absence to grant the extension, but warned Warfield to comply with the guidelines set in the motion or risk having the extension revoked.

Councilman Jim Hall called the Edgewater Avenue property “prime” and “sure to be the first to go when the market does pick back up since it’s already a third of the way done”, but seemed to mirror other council members’ concerns what would happen to the property if an extension was not granted leaving it in what he called “no-man’s land.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight was one of those concerned council members, adding, “I realize we can’t put more units on the market right now, but I don’t like to set this precedent, but I feel like we don’t have a choice.”

Neighbors have been very vocal over the past few years with the upkeep of the construction site, complaining about run-off, buzzing transformer boxes, trash accumulation, the fence surrounding the site, the obvious “eyesore” argument and potentially decreasing property values.

“We all want beautiful and luxurious condos to go in next door, but we’d like to know when and by whom,” said one neighbor. “If I tried to sell my property now, I don’t think I’d have a chance with what’s next door.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who was the only member who voted against the extension said, “I think you should build now. I’m not optimistic about 12 months from now, and I’m not optimistic about 72 months from now. You need to fix that eyesore.”

The council added ramifications to the clause, forcing Warfield to keep the site safe and clean, adding that if the city has to come in and clean it for him, it will not only be on his dime, but he could also have his extension revoked. In addition, Warfield will have to pay the impact fees on the property when 50 percent of the units are sold.

For the neighbors like Sean Coughlin who have had to “look at stonehedge for three summers”, they feel the extension is unwarranted and “not a prudent thing for us or the town of Ocean City.”

In November 2007, the council reluctantly granted Warfield another extension. The council instructed Warfield a month later to build a fence around the property to protect against runoff into neighboring properties. After an Aug. 14, 2008 claim from Town Building Official Mike Richardson that Warfield was “failing to respond to city staff’s numerous certified mailings and phone calls urging compliance”, City Engineer Terry McGean advised Warfield to take immediate action to fix the property and, according to McGean, he did.

“For my standards, the property is to my satisfaction, although I realize it may not be to some of the neighbors,” McGean said.

For neighbors like Kramer and Coughlin, Mayor Rick Meehan warned them to “be careful what they wish for.”

“You know that you are going to get a quality building at some point, and if this project goes away, you don’t have any guarantee what you are going to get,” he said. “When these luxurious condos go up, your property values will no doubt go up accordingly.”

The bayfront property overlooks the prestigious Harbour Island community and is considered to be quite valuable by some, while others like Councilman Joe Hall said, “there is no current market in this economy for that property” who questioned the “risk and the reward from making it defunct.”

The fight between Warfield and the neighbors no doubt will rage on, a point that Councilman Jim Hall washed his hands clean of by saying, “if you feel like you have been wronged, file a suit, and let the courts decide. I’m not sure what else we can do.”