Council Denies Bayside Boardwalk Payment Deferral; City Withholding Certificate Of Occupancy

Council Denies Bayside Boardwalk Payment Deferral; City Withholding Certificate Of Occupancy
A rendering of the new Cambria Hotel in downtown Ocean City is pictured with the bayside Boardwalk included. Rendering by Fisher Architecture

OCEAN CITY — It appears the future of a new hotel under construction just north of the Route 50 Bridge is in question for this summer after resort officials this week denied a plea from the developer to defer a $165,000 contribution to the town for a bayside Boardwalk.

For the last four years, the new Cambria Hotel along the waterfront at 1st Street has steadily risen from the ground on the site of the old Cropper Concrete plant just north of the bridge. Through the spring, finishing touches were put on the new hotel and it appeared the facility was headed toward an opening at some point early in the 2020 season.

However, as a condition of the zoning amendment that allowed for the development of a hotel on an old industrially-zoned parcel and as a condition of the site plan approval for the project, the developer agreed to convey a 10-foot wide public access easement along the bayside of the property and contribute $165,000 toward the continued development of a bayside boardwalk in that area. In short, the developer, Ocean Hospitality I, would pay $165,000 toward the bayside boardwalk, long a desire of the town of Ocean City to connect commercial properties along the waterfront in that area.

The conveyance of the 10-foot easement and the $165,000 contribution for the bayside boardwalk was a condition of releasing the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) for the new hotel, essentially a last step in the opening process. However, the developer came to the town in April and agreed to convey the 10-foot waterfront easement to the town as required, but asked the Mayor and Council to defer the payment of the $165,000 for the bayside boardwalk until after the summer season when it had a couple of months of operation under its belt.

In April, Ocean Hospitality I representative Tauhid Islam made an impassioned plea to the Mayor and Council to defer the $165,000 until the fall when the hotel had generated some revenue. Islam cited a variety of reasons for asking for the deferment including the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which was peaking at the time and added costs to the completion of the project due to the public health crisis.

Islam pointed out the 137-room luxury hotel is expected to contribute $17 million to the town’s property tax base and asked for more time to make the $165,000 payment for the bayside boardwalk.

“We’ve made a significant contribution to Ocean City and Worcester County with our hotel projects,” he said at the time. “Everything was different then. Life has thrown us a curve ball. Things are very different from where we were just a couple of months ago.”

At that time, the Mayor and Council agreed in concept to accept the conveyance of the 10-foot waterfront easement and directed staff and legal counsel to work on a plan to defer the $165,000 for the bayside boardwalk. On Tuesday, roughly two months later, Council President Lloyd Martin announced in his report on the closed session an agreement had not been reached with the Cambria.

“Legal counsel advised a payment had not been made by Cambria, therefore, the certificate of occupancy cannot be issued,” he said briefly.

City Manager Doug Miller later explained the council’s decision not to defer the $165,000 bayside boardwalk payment.

“They are getting close to opening and made a plea to delay the payment, which was a condition of the zoning and site plan approvals,” he said. “In essence, they agreed to it and it is now time to make the payment. Once we give them the certificate of occupancy, the city loses all leverage.”

It remains uncertain if the Cambria Hotel developer will now find a way to make the $165,000 payment to gain the CO. However, a glimpse at the hotel’s website has the terse messages “Coming Soon” and “Start Booking September 15, 2020.”

The $165,000 figure was derived from a similar bayside boardwalk project the town recently completed along the waterfront at nearby Chicago Avenue. The developer would pay the town the $165,000 for the project and the city would construct and maintain the bayside boardwalk, which would be accessible to the public. If the developer had made the $165,000 payment as planned, the city would not likely have started construction on the boardwalk until after the summer season at least, a point Islam made during his plea in April.

“This project has taken four years to develop and we’re right at the finish line,” he said. “I’m asking to give us an opportunity to open. If the city starts the boardwalk in September, we’ll be ready to make that payment. Give us a little time to open the hotel and establish ourselves. We all need each other’s help in these times.”

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.