OC Project Clears Hurdle

OCEAN CITY — There may still be some uncertainty to what it will eventually look like after redevelopment, but the Planning and Zoning Commission has a clearer vision to what the 45th street village will not look like in the future.

The plan for the midtown shopping center became a little bit clearer on Tuesday, as the commission voted to rezone the property back to an SC-1 (Shopping Center District) and a LC-1 (Licensed Commercial) and abandon the overlay district zoning that the site had been approved for several years ago.

Avi Sibony, owner of the Sunsations Franchises as well as landowner of the 45th Street Village, had spoken publicly that he was unsure if his 17-story condominium and 12-story hotel project in the back of the shopping center would ever become a reality in today’s market.

As a result of Tuesday’s decision, the largest building in the 45th Street shopping center will be no higher than eight stories, according to Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith.

Sibony had queried to try to make some changes to the scope of the project over the past few months, most notably in shrinking the two respective towers dramatically but increasing the retail space at the front of the complex.

However, the commission found that the changes he had proposed were “major changes”, which would have been a violation of what the property had been approved for when it was granted overlay district status. 

Smith said nly minor changes could be done to an approved overlay district site, without having to essentially go back to the beginning and start the entire process again.

“Getting this rezoned back the way that it was prior to the overlay district, will enable Mr. Sibony more design freedom,” said Smith, “and he’ll be able to do some of the things that I think he will be able to do with the site.  He still has to get approved for the site plan, so Tuesday was more of an administrative vote.”

Sibony’s attorney, Joseph Moore, said that this is the first time that a property that had been approved to be in an overlay district had asked to be changed back to what it was prior.

“There is no risk in approving our request to change the zoning because we still have to get site plan approval,” said Moore, “and we can’t do a real site plan until we get the proper zoning.”

Architect Keith Iott, of Iott Architecture and Engineering, testified that changing the zoning back to SC-1 in parcel 4 and LC-1 in parcels 1,2, and 3 was “much more conducive with the parameters of the neighborhood.”

Still, Commission Chair Pam Buckley implored Sibony to transform the plaza into something more aesthetically pleasing than “box retail stores.”

“This is a unique piece of property, and an important one at that in the town of Ocean City,” said Buckley, “so I think that it deserves to have a nice piece of public art on it. I would hope that something like that is on the site plan when we see it next.”

During the last conversation in early January between the two parties, a compromise was reached for the new allocation of retail space.

“I’m just excited that we are going to see retail in the plaza again and retail isn’t getting chased over the bridge into West Ocean City,” said commissioner and K-Coast Surf Shop co-owner Chris Shanahan.

The official abandonment of the idea to build large towers at 45th Street seemed to be a breath of fresh air for everyone involved.

“What they are going to do on the Bayside make this much easier”, said Commissioner Lauren Taylor, “but I think they know our feelings on this property and what we’d like to see, so hopefully, they’ll come back with a good site plan.”