Planning Commission Signs Off Zoning Error Fix

OCEAN CITY — Although there are no immediate plans to develop the parcel, resort planners last week corrected an apparent mistake in zoning for a sliver of property at 33rd Street.

The Ocean City Planning Commission last week had before them a request to rezone a narrow sliver of property along the bayside at 33rd Street from its current residential zoning designation to a commercial designation. The portion of the property that fronts Coastal Highway, where the existing Planet Maze business is located, is zoned commercial, but decades ago the back portion measuring around 150 feet to the rear lot line was zoned residential.

Attorney Joe Moore, representing the property owner, told the commission he believed a mistake was made in the zoning of the property over 20 years ago that resulted in the parcel actually being split with commercial along the highway and residential in the back. Moore said the property owner sought to correct the zoning anomaly although no specific plans for redevelopment were pending.

Moore called on long-time Ocean City Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith to present the zoning history of the parcel. Smith said in 1986 the property was zoned C-1 commercial. However, during a comprehensive rezoning in 1993, the property was split with the commercial zoning retained along the highway frontage and a residential zoning for the back portion of the property.

Smith explained the back portion was zoned residential at the time because the owner expressed a desire in developing a multi-family residential project five stories high which would not have been possible under the existing zoning. However, that project never materialized and the residential zoning applied to the parcel was retained through future comprehensive rezonings.

Smith said the property should more appropriately be zoned the same from lot line to lot line.

“In a sense, it almost appears to be spot zoning,” he said. “It would be hard to function as a R-2 use. It is being used now commercially as Planet Maze, but it is limited to just that. We did it, but it was an oversight and a mistake. I think it’s almost an enclave and does not show a purpose as it is currently zoned.”

For that reason, Moore said a more appropriate decision would be to zone the entire parcel consistently. He argued a mistake in the zoning years ago necessitated the change. Moore explained the property owners had no immediate plans to redevelop the parcel, but correcting the decades-old zoning mistake could open the door for something on the site in the future.

“There are potential uses of the property that aren’t currently available,” he said. “There is no pending project that will come before you at this time. They may sell the property or develop the property, but that will come before you at a different time.”

At least one local resident objected to the proposed rezoning of the parcel to commercial. Current Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said he had received an email from a board member of a condominium association on the opposite side of the highway voicing concern with the overall redevelopment of what is one of the busiest intersections in the resort.

However, Moore attempted to allay the neighboring condo owner’s concerns by reiterating it is just a narrow portion of a large parcel.

“We’re talking about a 100-foot strip of R-2 property,” he said.

Satisfied with the zoning mistake argument, the commission voted unanimously to correct the zoning and change it from R-2 to LC-1 from lot line to lot line.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.