OCEAN CITY — What began this week as a public comment about a dilapidated building north of the Route 50 Bridge near the entrance to the resort turned into a larger discussion about the future of the area and the eventual replacement of the span.
During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, downtown resident Scott Chismar referenced what he envisions as inconsistencies in the code enforcement in that old section of the downtown area. Chismar said one property owner attempting to improve his property with a deck replacement was slapped with a stop work order by the town, while other buildings in the same areas are crumbling and becoming eyesores.
“I’d like to see more enforcement on some of these dilapidated properties than focusing on someone who is just trying to improve their property,” he said. “I’m not making excuses for anybody, and he should get the permit and do the right thing. However, it bothers me that somebody looking to improve their property gets slapped with a stop work order, while right behind it is a decrepit eyesore.”
The issue led to a broader discussion about a particular property just north of the Route 50 Bridge that has been boarded up all summer and is soon scheduled for demolition. Chismar said resort officials often talk about improving the appearance of the gateway to Ocean City and the Baltimore Avenue corridor, and yet that boarded-up building has stood at the entrance to town all summer.
“With that boarded-up building on North Division Street, people get stopped on the bridge and are looking at that absolutely awful eyesore,” he said. “Maybe we can get creative there in the meantime so it doesn’t look so bad. We don’t need a boarded-up building as our number one focal point at the gateway to town.”
Councilman Mark Paddack agreed and said it appears there is some activity afoot to improve the situation.
“He brought up a very good point about that building on North Division Street,” he said. “I noticed this week they actually had demolition crews in there, so I guess the next part of that project is the building coming down.”
The comment led to an even larger discussion about the future of those properties along the north side of Route 50 and the eventual replacement of the bridge.
Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out the favored alternative of the State Highway Administration (SHA) would come through the area where many of those older buildings along the north side of Route 50 currently stand.
“As we all know, SHA did an extensive study and the then-Mayor and Council chose an alternative with a parallel span on the north side,” he said. “So, those buildings on the north side are in the required right-of-way. That building we’re talking about on the north side really should be purchased by SHA so that when the bridge is replaced, they would own the right-of-way.”
However, Dare said state law does not allow SHA to purchase property until a project is approved. With the eventual Route 50 Bridge replacement likely still many years away, those properties could be redeveloped in the interim, resulting in significantly higher costs to acquire them in the future.
“Maybe the Route 50 Bridge never gets approved, or maybe when it comes time to do it, they prefer to do it in a different way,” Dare said. “In the meantime, somebody can buy those properties and build whatever they want on it. Assuming what is being planned is done, instead of SHA paying several hundred thousand dollars for the property, they may have to spend several million dollars to condemn them.”
Dare suggested a proactive approach to begin acquiring those properties as they become available in preparation for the future bridge replacement involving the quasi-public Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), akin to the ongoing model block program.
“It makes little sense not to do something ahead of time,” he said. “My suggestion is to have the OCDC purchase these properties as they become available. They are our vehicle for redevelopment in the downtown area. If OCDC purchased these properties along the north side of Route 50 when they became available, then when SHA is ready to do the bridge project, they would pay OCDC fair market value. OCDC would then have money to reinvest in the downtown area.”
Dare said if the OCDC purchased the properties as they become available, they could be repurposed for a good use until they are needed for the eventual Route 50 bridge right-of-way.
“If any of the properties they bought are habitable, they could expand summer employee housing,” he said. “If they’re not, the property could be made into a temporary parking lot. I don’t envision paid parking in that area, but I can envision permit parking for residents and even for employees.”