Proposed Alley Swap For Restaurant Redevelopment Tabled

OCEAN CITY- A potential land swap to accommodate the redevelopment of a decades-old midtown restaurant and nightclub was tabled this week to further determine what to do with a utility pole in the middle of the parcel acquired by the town.

Last December, the Planning Commission reviewed a proposed site plan for the redevelopment of the old BJ’s on the Water property on the bayfront at 75th Street. The property has since been sold to another popular resort restaurant group Ropewalk, which plans to develop the bayfront eatery called Windward OC.

The Ropewalk group has been operating the restaurant in its original footprint this summer as the Atlantic Beach House, but the long-term plan calls for the old restaurant to be torn down and replaced with a new two-story establishment on the same site with a sandy beachfront along the water, nearly 9,000 square-feet of dining areas including over 700 square feet on a rooftop terrace and other amenities.

The project will go through multiple layers of the approval process, but the planning commission in December gave its blessing to the redevelopment concept. On Monday, the Mayor and Council had before them a request to close a city-owned, seldom-used east-west alley between 74th Street and 75th Street to accommodate the redevelopment project.

Essentially what is a paper alley would be needed to accommodate the expanded parking for the establishment. Under the proposal, the town would convey the 100-foot paper alley to the property owner. In exchange, the property owner would convey an easement to the town for a 100-foot section of alley that runs north-to-south between the existing parking lot and the back of the Quiet Storm surf shop.

That alley already exists and is 10 feet wide, allowing for vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic between 75th and 74th Streets. With the property owner conveying an easement to the town at 10 feet wide, the north-south alley would essentially become a 20-foot wide alley.

In a nutshell, the property owners would gain access to the under-utilized 100-foot east-west alley between 74th and 75th Street, while the town would get an expanded 20-foot alley running north to south between 74th and 75th Streets. The length and square-footage of the two parcels in essentially the same. City Engineer Terry McGean explained the proposed land swap to the Mayor and Council.

“We think it’s a benefit for the town,” he said. “That’s a heavily traveled north-south alley through there. Right now, it’s a 10-foot alley, but this would make it a 20-foot alley.”

The proposal appeared to be heading to an easy approval before Councilman Mark Paddack raised concern about a utility pole in the center of the easement the town would be getting. He pointed out in order for the town to fully utilize the new 20-foot alley, the utility pole would likely have to be relocated.

“We’ve had discussions about widening sidewalks and undergrounding utilities, but we’re getting a piece of property with a telephone pole in the center of the right-of-way for the public,” he said. “I don’t think the taxpayers should pay for moving that pole. We can’t utilize the property until it’s moved. We all want development, and it’s a good project, but that needs to be addressed.”

McGean said the utility pole would have to be relocated in such a way as to keep the entire length of the north-south alley between 74th and 75th Streets aligned properly. The alley currently runs behind the existing firehouse at 74th Street, but that firehouse could eventually be closed and relocated.

“If we sell the firehouse property, the goal would be to have a true 20-foot alley across that entire block,” he said.

Attorney Joe Moore representing the developer said he could not make the call on relocating the utility pole, but was certain his client would be amendable to a solution.

“You can table this until my client can determine what can be done with the pole,” he said. “He can come back to you with a plan for that. This will also be reviewed at different levels through site plan approval.”

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out the proposed exchange was not an apples-to-oranges land swap.

“It’s not an easement swap,” he said. “You’re getting the land and we’re getting an easement. It’s not a fee-simple transfer. I just think there’s a value to it. I’d like to look at our policy for similar situations.”

Moore pointed out the town was getting a useful piece of property while the developer was essentially getting an existing dead zone.

“It really doesn’t have any public purpose,” he said. “We’re getting an alley that goes nowhere, and the town is getting a usable public right-of-way.”

Councilman John Gehrig pointed out the benefit for the town with the proposal.

“They’re paying the taxes on it and we get to use it,” he said. “We get to use all 20 feet of that alley. It makes for a better situation.”

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.