OCEAN CITY — An appeal hearing at the state Court of Special Appeals got underway on Thursday that could decide the fate of an iconic building on the Boardwalk.
The historic building on the east side of South Division Street near the south end of the Boardwalk has been home to different businesses and attractions over the last century-plus after an enterprising young man first built it in 1905. Since the 1970s, the iconic building has been home to a Dumser’s Dairyland ice cream parlor that has served the popular treat to generations of residents and visitors to Ocean City.
Ownership of the property was called into question in 2016 after the second of two 25-year agreements between the town of Ocean City and the heirs of the original owner, Nathan Rapaport, who first built the structure back in 1905, expired. In April 2017, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge issued an opinion in favor of the town of Ocean City. As a result of that ruling, the Rapaport heirs were temporarily enjoined from any use of the property and were given a timeline at that time to remove or demolish the historic building.
Rapaport’s heirs, Nathan Associates, appealed the Worcester County Circuit Court decision to the state’s Court of Special Appeals and the case has been plodding along since. However, the case was finally scheduled for a hearing in the appeals court on Thursday and opening arguments were expected to be heard. It is uncertain just how long the appeals case will last.
In 1966, Rapoport, in declining health and desirous of retiring in Ocean City where he and his family operated different businesses over the years in the building, reached an “agreement” with the city to tear down the existing structure and build a new and improved building on the site with a commercial interest on the Boardwalk level, now Dumsers, and living quarters above on the second floor.
The agreement expired in 1991 and the Rapoport’s heirs exercised their option on a second 25 years under the language in the agreement. That second 25-year option on the 1966 agreement expired in 2016 and the city asserted its jurisdiction over the property, which sits in the right-of-way for Atlantic Avenue, or all of the property east of the deeded properties on the west side of the Boardwalk.
Nathans Associates has essentially claimed the town had abandoned any ownership rights to the property after the building had sat on the site for well over 100 years. The town asserted Atlantic Avenue, essentially the Boardwalk and the land east of it, had been dedicated to the public by a decades-old act of the Maryland General Assembly and was to be maintained by the municipality, regardless of the 1966 agreement that expired in 2016.
The case went to trial in 2017 and Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Dale Cathell ultimately rendered an opinion in favor of the town of Ocean City. As a result, Nathans Associates was enjoined from any use of the property and the Rapoport heirs are required to remove or demolish the structure by the end of the year in 2017.
With the case now in the Court of Special Appeals, the future of the historic building remains in question as hearings began on Thursday. In the meantime, it has been business as usual at Dumser’s in the iconic building since the Worcester County Circuit Court ruling in 2017. In the court of public opinion at least, there has been strong sentiment to save the building and its occupant for the last several decades. Meanwhile, the town has not made public any plans for the building should the appeals case go in favor of Ocean City. No clear public need for the property has been established and the assumption since the beginning is the town would assert its ownership and essentially maintain it as the new landlord.