OCEAN CITY — An uptown Ocean City property with a tragic past will be redeveloped with a mixed-use commercial and residential project after resort planners this week approved the site plan for the long-awaited redevelopment.
The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a site plan for an addition to the UpTown Center along the west side of Coastal Highway at 123rd Street. The shopping complex is currently occupied by the Quiet Storm surf shop, the Parched Pelican restaurant and Justine’s Ice Cream Parlor, but the north portion of the property has been vacant for decades after a tragic fire in 1983 claimed the popular Saute Café restaurant and more importantly the life of an Ocean City volunteer firefighter.
In the decades since, only the footprint of the former restaurant remained on the property and a portion of the low brick wall, serving as a grim reminder of the tragic loss of firefighter Jeffrey Dieter in 1983. The Saute Café was a popular restaurant in the early 1980s for residents and visitors alike before the early morning fire on July 16, 1983 claimed the popular eatery.
During the battle to save the establishment, Ocean City volunteer firefighter Jeffrey Dieter, 24, became trapped in the burning building and succumbed to injuries sustained in the fire, becoming the first Ocean City firefighter to die in the line of duty in over 45 years. The Saute Café was destroyed and was never rebuilt, but decades later an appropriate plan was approved this week for the redevelopment of the site.
Developer and Planning Commission member Peck Miller redeveloped the portion of the site currently occupied by retail and food service operations on the south side of the parcel adjacent to a bayside canal. On Monday, Miller, who recused himself from the vote as the applicant, presented a site plan for the redevelopment of the remainder of the UpTown Center including a stand-alone coffee shop with a drive-through in the center of the parcel, along with a mixed-use building including over 5,000 square feet of retail and office space on the first floor and two three-bedroom apartments on the second floor on the part of the site that used to house the Saute Café.
Satisfied the proposed site plan met the mandated parking requirements along with the other staff recommendations, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposed redevelopment. Miller said there were already plans to remember the site’s past including a possible memorial of some sort for the fallen firefighter Dieter.
“A little side note, we did talk to the fire department and [Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company President] Jay Jester about putting a little memorial there in the blue building which is where the Saute Café was, so we’re going to work on putting something there,” he said. “It’s pretty important. A lot of people drive by there and still remember it.”
Miller said he went to great lengths to redesign the property to carefully integrate with what is currently on the site and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We worked six months on the design and it is a vast improvement over what they wanted us to have,” he said. “It is significantly different than what was proposed for the site before.”
Miller’s colleagues on the commission agreed, unanimously approving the proposed site plan for the project. Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis said Miller held true to the tenets of the commission with the redesign of the site including mixed commercial and residential uses.
“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “I love the way you put your money where your mouth is. We wanted mixed use and you gave us mixed use.”