OCEAN CITY — The future of the historic George B. Cropper Concrete Company property along the bay at North 1st Street immediately north of the Route 50 bridge looks a little brighter this week after resort planners approved an extension for a 94-unit mixed use residential project.
In 2007, the previous property owner gained site plan approval for an attractive mixed use townhome and condominium project on the historic property at the entrance to Ocean City, but the property has changed hands a couple of times in recent years and the site plan approval was set to expire in November.
In May 2011, the property was acquired at auction for just over $4 million by a prominent West Ocean City development family, and while the new owners did not have an immediate plan for the property, it now appears they are prepared to move forward with the approved project for the site.
To that end, the new owners, RoJo Land LLC and the Gudelsky family, who several years ago developed much of the waterfront in West Ocean City from the Ocean City Fishing Center to the Martha’s Landing community to Sunset Marina, came before the Ocean City Planning Commission on Tuesday seeking an extension of the site plan approval for the project first pitched several years ago. After considerable discussion, resort planners agreed to extend the approval for an additional three years with an option to come back for another extension if needed in the future.
Attorney Joe Moore, who represents the developer, said it was not typical to ask for repeated site plan approval extensions for a site, but the potential benefit for the abandoned concrete plant, which has become a blight on the downtown landscape and the entrance to the resort in recent years, warranted the approval.
“The reason we’re asking for an extension is because for the first time in a long time, I have a client with a plan for the future of this important property,” he said. “That’s a startling difference. I’ve never asked for it on any project, but it’s such a unique project. I don’t think you’d do any better on this property than this project.”
The plans call for 40 condominiums in an attractive building along the south edge of the property adjacent to the bridge, with 54 townhomes arranged in several buildings on the balance of the property. The original site plan approval included an easement for a future bayside boardwalk, which has been a long-range plan in the downtown area and ensures public access to the waterfront, and that easement remains in place with the extension.
“The agreement is in place for a future bayside boardwalk,” said Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith. “That’s an integral part of our downtown redevelopment goal.”
Another condition of the site plan approval extension is a general cleanup and overhaul of the property to be completed prior to Memorial Day 2013. The developer has voluntarily agreed to demolish most of the existing structures on the property including the old concrete plant towers so prominent, yet out of place, at the entrance to the resort.
“The plan is to take down everything on the property but the old office of George Bert Cropper Concrete,” said Moore. “The only reason that is staying is because it might have some potential interim uses, but even that will be dressed up and made attractive.”
The approval extension had the blessing of the Ocean City Development Corporation’s (OCDC) Downtown Design Committee (DDC), provided the public easement for the bayside boardwalk remained in place and the demolition of all structures except the old office was completed by next Memorial Day.
“The DDC believes this is an attractive site plan that, if developed, will add more quality residential units to the downtown area,” said OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin in a memo this week to Smith.
Meanwhile, the property will likely continue to have interim uses until the developer is ready to move forward with the plan and the market improves. For example, the Dew Tour uses the site to store some elements of its setup and the State Highway Administration in the past has used the property as a staging area.
Resort planners embraced the project before and had not changed their opinion this week.
“I remember it was a beautiful project when it was first presented,” said Chairperson Pam Buckley. “It was low profile and low density and just really appropriate for this site.”
While Moore said the developer was seeking an extension of as much as 10 years, he realized that was likely unrealistic and suggested a five-year extension might be appropriate. However, Planning Commission members said there is much on the town’s plate in the near future including a new strategic plan and an update of the comprehensive plan and a long-term extension of the site plan approval might be ill-advised until those issues are resolved. In addition, Planning Commission member Peck Miller said the future leadership of the resort was rather static at the moment.
“I really don’t want us to go beyond three years,” he said. “We don’t know what Ocean City is going to bring. We have a new city manager and maybe a new council.”