OCEAN CITY – An amusement complex in north Ocean City looks to expand by adding a second miniature golf course and expanding the arcade building to include laser tag.
A public hearing was held before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday to consider a conditional use permit for the expansion of an existing arcade and miniature golf complex between 145th and 146th streets on the west side of Coastal Hwy. The applicant, Nolen Graves of Golf Ventures LLC, is planning on adding an 18-hole miniature golf course and laser tag building to the site.
The block currently contains a miniature golf course on the northeast corner with a BB&T Bank and its parking on the southeast corner, which has a sandy play area directly to the west. A parking lot running north/south divides the block with an arcade building on the northwest corner and three storage unit warehouses on the southwest corner.
The additional 18-hole miniature golf course will replace the sandy play area and a portion of parking next to the bank and the 4,750-square-foot laser tag building will extend off the arcade building to the south where the three warehouses will be demolished. The existing miniature golf course and parking will remain, with additional parking added to the back of the complex on Sinepuxent Ave.
The only immediate residential neighbors are to the west of the complex across Sinepuxent Ave. The blocks to the north and south are considered commercial as well.
In December 2006, the Mayor and City Council approved the conditional use permit based on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s favorable recommendation to allow the operation of the existing arcade. The approval included the stipulations that the hours of operation be the same as the miniature golf course from 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., the applicant cannot use any outdoor music or other amplified sounds or display of any flashing or moving lights, and the family amusement center building is sound proofed to keep noise within the building.
In 2008, Graves returned requesting a conditional use be permitted to allow an addition of an indoor 18-hole miniature golf course in place of the warehouses. Based on a favorable recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Mayor and City Council voted to approve the conditional use including the same stipulations passed in 2006. However, the indoor mini golf was never built.
“The warehouses have been sitting vacant and idle for some time and in 2008 we had hoped they would go away at that time,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said.
The warehouses have become a problem over the years, Graves stated, with being illegally used as residences and businesses as well as a dumping ground.
According to Smith and Graves’ legal representation, Joseph Moore, the project with be in compliance with parking requirements. The requirements are one space per mini golf hole, which is 36 spaces, one space per five people of the total capacity of the laser tag building, which is 32 players at a time so that comes to about seven spaces, plus 12 spaces for the existing arcade and eight spaces for the existing café, which come to a total of 63 required parking spaces.
Although the operation is allowed to be open until 12:30 a.m. Graves assured that does not typically happen with guests mostly being families with small children the amusements are usually closed by 11 p.m. at the latest.
Graves also testified all lighting will be directed onto the property, and with the laser tag carrying the originally set stipulation of the building having to be soundproofed the operation will have no adverse impact on neighboring properties.
“There is encouragement of amusements in the Town of Ocean City for the purpose of having those facilities available for residents and visitors, and we believe we are fulfilling that,” Moore said of the proposed conditional use in relationship to the Town of Ocean City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Commission member Chris Shanahan expressed concern over the eastern wall of what will be a large steel building being the most visual element of the building.
“As far as your eastern elevation, have you considered dressing up the big metal wall,” he asked.
Graves responded he will consider improving the esthetic of the building prior to final site plan approval. He added the building will be hard to see in the summer with the mini-golf courses and surrounding plantings.
Heather Hall, a resident at North Island Condominiums located directly to the west of the complex, said that while she is happy to see the warehouses go, she is concerned over increased activity on west side of the property with the addition of the back parking lot.
“There are three access points to the back parking lot off of Sinepuxent Ave. … we don’t have too much traffic right now but we are concerned we will get a lot of traffic with the parking lot being in the back and traffic having to come in and out of Sinepuxent Ave.,” Hall said. “Currently, there haven’t been any noise complaints but that is because all of the activity is currently on the east side of the complex. With the proposed parking lot being in the back, we will now have people coming in and out of the parking lot until midnight. We are a quiet community, and we like it quiet.”
Commissioner Palmer Gillis pointed out guests will most likely “choose the path of least resistance” and will fill the front parking lot first. Plus, landscaping planted along the west side of the block will provide a buffer between the back parking lot and residences across Sinepuxent Ave.
“It is a good project that will help that end of town in terms of the Comprehensive Plan aiming to add more entertainment … it gets rid of a major eyesore [warehouses], too,” Commission member Lauran Taylor said.
Taylor made a motion to forward a favorable recommendation to the City Council to approve the conditional use permit based on the existing stipulations, limiting the laser tag building to a maximum of 32 players at one time, and if a mezzanine is added, as included in the plans, Graves will have to return to the commission for approval.
Shanahan seconded the motion, agreeing with Gillis most guests will park in the front parking lot.
“Given the nature of the business, it sounds like it shuts down fairly early,” he said. “It sounds like he has been a good neighbor and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
The commission voted 5-0 to approve with commission members Pam Buckley and Peck Miller absent.
Graves will return to the Planning and Zoning Commission to receive final site plan approval prior to construction.