OCEAN CITY — Satisfied the project as presented met the town’s code requirements, resort officials this week approved a second site plan for a new restaurant on the bayfront at 75th Street.
For decades, the site was home to the iconic B.J.’s on the Water, but earlier this year the property was sold to another popular resort restaurant group, owner Chris Reda and his team with the Ropewalk properties. In December, the Ocean City Planning Commission approved the first version of the site plan for the new establishment to be 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, over 9,000 square feet of dining areas including over 700 square feet on a rooftop terrace and other amenities.
On Tuesday, the developer came back to the planning commission seeking approval for an amended site plan for the proposed Windward OC establishment. The most significant change from the site plan approved in December is the developer plans on moving the entire structure back from the water by about 45 feet.
Before resort planners could tear into the details of the site plan, however, it appeared the hearing might not get off the ground. In recent weeks, the town has been negotiating with the developer on a proposed alley sway beneficial to both parties. The property owner asked to swap a city-owned and seldom-used east-west alley along the south edge of the property for a north-south alley that runs between 74th and 75th streets.
The alley the town will receive in the swap will widen the existing alley from 10 feet to 20 feet, easing pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic in the area. The Mayor and Council have already approved the alley swap, but has not yet held the requisite public hearing on the acquisition, which will be held in October.
Planning Commissioner Lauren Taylor asked if the commission was putting the cart before the horse with the site plan presentation before the alley swap was finalized with the requisite public hearing.
“I think it could be tabled until after that hearing,” she said. “It’s impossible to approve this plan if we don’t know the alley swap is finally approved.”
Planning commissioner Palmer Gillis said it was possible to approve the site plan on Tuesday with the alley swap finalization as a condition.
“I think we could approve this plan conditional on the Mayor and Council approval of the alley swap,” he said.
Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville explained the alley swap was not a lynchpin for the overall project, which already met its parking requirements.
“You’ve already approved the plan that doesn’t include the alley swap,” he said “You could go forward with the approval on the final parking count whether the alley is included or not. The alley swap includes a benefit for the applicant and the town, but doesn’t change what you’re considering approving tonight. What’s before you tonight is allowing the building to be moved back farther from the water.”
Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy advised the commission her office had received several emails and letters from concerned residents about the project.
“We’ve heard some very valid concerns about different topics we can discuss,” she said. “I did talk with some of the neighbors about the delicate balance between the LC-1 commercial zone and the adjacent residential areas.”
Gordy said through emails and letters, some residents in the area voiced concern about trash and noise, not enough parking, environmental concerns among others. Attorney Joe Moore, representing the developer, pointed out the developer had voluntarily agreed to construct a 20-foot sound reducing wall around the outside deck, which was approved by the Board of License Commissioners when the project earned its liquor license last week.
The BLC also put other restrictions on the liquor license that could allay some of the residents’ concerns. For example, outside seating must stop at 10 p.m. The new restaurant can only have acoustical music up to three pieces, and the outside music must stop at 8 p.m. Music inside must stop at 11 p.m.
Planning commission chair Pam Buckley explained to several of the residents in attendance on Tuesday issues such as noise and operating times fell under the purview of the BLC.
“I appreciate all of the comments,” she said. “The liquor board has made determinations on sound and outside noise.”
Moore said the 20-foot sound wall idea came from a successful initiative at the company’s bayfront Ropewalk restaurant.
“The reason we did the 20-foot wall is it is based on a business plan that has worked at Ropewalk,” he said. “There have been no complaints from neighbors in seven years, not one noise complaint.”
Moore said Windward OC wants to get along with all the residents in the area.
“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” he said. “By the time we make our presentation, we think you will agree. The reason we’re here tonight is moving the building back 45 feet from the water. The reason we’re doing that is to protect that bird sanctuary. We are reducing our outdoor dining that you already approved.”
Moore said there were really no contentious issues with the proposed site plan approval.
“We’re absolutely code compliant with everything in this plan,” he said. “We’re in compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan. It’s a great company. I know with Ropewalk the folks that raised concerns at first have become good friends and customers.”
After some discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan for Windward OC as presented.