SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners approved plans to replace the former BJ’s on the Water with an expansive new facility.
The connections of Atlantic Beach House presented the Board of License Commissioners (BLC) with plans for a 597-seat restaurant to be located on the former BJ’s site. In response to concerns from neighbors, the board approved the proposal with limited entertainment and reduced hours.
“They have a legitimate concern,” said BLC Chairman William Esham.
Attorney Joe Moore and Atlantic Beach House’s Marc McFaul approached the board Wednesday seeking permission to alter the restaurant’s premises. Though Atlantic Beach House operated this year in the old BJ’s building, the owners are now ready to replace it. Moore told the board the new building would be 80 feet east of where the structure is now and would include two stories with a deck and beach seating area. He said McFaul, known for Ropewalk, wanted to do something similar on site.
“The concept we have for the development of BJ’s mirrors the concept we found successful at Ropewalk,” Moore said.
He added that the new structure, unlike the aging BJ’s building, would be code compliant and safer. Parking will be accommodated by the clearing of a couple nearby lots. Moore said McFaul also planned to construct a 20-foot sound wall to reduce noise.
Residents of nearby condominiums were quick to voice objections to the proposal.
“We’re concerned about the change in scale,” said Frank Vernet of Thee Cristina C, adding that the facility was going from 350 seats to 597 seats.
While BJ’s offered primarily inside dining, Atlantic Beach House plans to have 355 outside seats. Vernet said Thee Cristina C was only 150 feet from the restaurant’s proposed outdoor seating. He suggested the restaurant have an 8 p.m. music cutoff, no outside bands and no alcohol outdoors after 8 p.m.
“Sound travels on the water…,” said Steve Baer, a resident of 74th Street. “It really transmits across the water.”
McFaul stressed that he wanted the restaurant to be a good neighbor. Despite initial opposition to some of his other restaurants, he said they weren’t proving to be problems in their communities.
Ruth Vernet of Thee Cristina C said there had been noise issues at Atlantic Beach House already, even without the new building. She said she’d verified that the noise was too loud with her decibel meter.
“Without standards imposed by this board we’re going to have problems,” she said.
Ruth Vernet said that while BJ’s was a primarily indoor facility, the one day a year its operations were outdoors — during the annual canoe races — there were countless issues for neighbors, including trespassing, noise and illegal parking.
A resident of the Tobin Quarters condo said that there were already parking problems in the neighborhood and that a larger facility like the one proposed would only increase the issue.
Tom Coates, the board’s attorney, said that zoning issues were not the province of the BLC but rather the Town of Ocean City’s domain. The town’s planning commission is expected to review the Atlantic Beach House site plan next week. Coates added that as far as noise, there was a noise ordinance in Ocean City and that the BLC took violations seriously.
“This board has taken punitive action against those establishments,” he said.
When asked about the restaurant’s entertainment plans, McFaul said he planned to bring in acoustic style bands.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any problems,” he said.
When the board inquired about dining hours, McFaul said food would be served until 2 a.m. but that dining usually died down around 10 p.m. Esham encouraged McFaul to make some concessions as far as outdoor operations to address neighbors’ qualms.
“They’re obviously very concerned,” Esham said. “They’re going to give you a fit if you bother them.”
McFaul said he hadn’t had issues at Ropewalk.
Esham nevertheless asked him to consider cutting back dining hours.
“You have a restaurant license not a nightclub license,” Esham said.
Moore said McFaul was a well-known restaurant operator in the Ocean City area.
“We believe our record in this town deserves consideration for this business plan to be given a chance,” he said.
BLC member Charles Nichols made a motion to approve the new building but with no outdoor entertainment and no outdoor dining after 10 p.m. He said if there weren’t any issues the restaurant could return to seek expanded privileges.
“They can always come back,” he said. “We’re here 12 months a year.”
BLC member Marty Pusey said she wanted to allow the facility some outside entertainment.
“I know we can put music outside and not be a problem,” McFaul said, adding that he just wanted to offer music until sunset.
Esham said the residents had a valid concern and asked if McFaul would consider closing the beach by midnight. Moore confirmed the beach could be closed by midnight.
Rather than approve Nichols’ motion, the BLC went on to unanimously approve an alternative motion by Esham to approve the new building and to allow three-piece entertainment until 8 p.m. and outdoor dining until 10 p.m. but to require the beach to close at midnight.