Planning Commission Irked Over 45th Street Village Designs

OCEAN CITY — What started as an informal conversation turned into a pretty formal frowning upon from the Planning and Zoning Commission concerning newly revised plans to the 45th Street Village.

At a special, but allegedly informal, Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, architect Keith Iott of Iott Architecture and Engineering in Salisbury, who is designing the site plan for Avi Sibony’s 45th Street Village property, explained a few alterations to the designs that the commission had last seen in August and presumably liked those plans much better.

“I’m not sure that this is what the town needs and I don’t think this is what we are looking for,” said Planning and Zoning Commissioner Peck Miller. “We want to create something great for the town, especially in this large of a space, and I don’t think that this is it.”

Over the long term, particularly when economic indicators point to a resurgence in the real estate market, Sibony hopes to put in a 12- and 17-story hotel and condominium complex in the back portion of the shopping center. In the short term, he essentially wants to tear down and rebuild the commercial or retail elements on the property along Coastal Highway.

What Iott explained was the proposed addition of two large commercial structures just 60 feet off the highway, one of which would obstruct the view of the bay, as had been previously discussed as being left open.

Iott said that Sibony is committed for at least one more summer to seeing if the Boathouse Restaurant can be successful, but the first phase of the project would include the essential demolition and rebuilding of the vast majority of retail spaces otherwise known as the shopping village.

“The fact is that the village shops are just not making it,” said Iott. “The intention is to create a retail space that would be compatible with the additional phases in this project [the hotel and condominium], but the first phase would see everything along the water with the exception of the Boathouse and the pizza shop going away.”

Miller and Chairperson Pam Buckley were the two most vocal members of the commission to question the projects new commercial element, with Buckley questioning more the aesthetic qualities than the functionality and practical applications.

“I don’t have a problem with the amount of square footage, I’m just not crazy about the boxes,” said Buckley. “What we had previously had some very nice architectural elements to it, but this just seems like box on box.”

Iott argued that trying to do more aesthetic site designs as far as implementing retail spaces into the eventual large footprint made by the hotel and condominium would be pricey.

“Basically, that would quadruple the costs of the retail space, and that’s just not economically viable right now,” said Iott.

Miller, on the other hand, stressed that the Planning and Zoning Commission’s task had nothing to do with money. He said financial concerns do not weigh on what the commission’s responsibility was for the town.

“It may not be the time to build right now, but we aren’t here for economics, we are here for the design,” said Miller. “I think you could make it a lot more exciting, interesting and unique by trying to make this plaza like a town center rather than just a big box.”

Suggestions from the commission included a promenade or a walkthrough with retail elements dispersed throughout, rather than having two large stores at the base of the property.

“If there was a little walkway that would draw people back there along the water, they would come and look through the retail, take a break, have a sandwich and go back out there and shop some more,” said Buckley. “I know this costs a lot of money to make changes, but this is a big piece of Ocean City.”

Iott took the constructive criticisms with a grain of salt and said that he would work further to bring a balance in terms of commercial use, and one that was a bit more aesthetically pleasing to the commission.

“I appreciate the spirit of what is being said here, and I think that we can succeed in making the retail to feel a bit more integrated and I think these are very valid criticisms,” he said.