OC Vacant Lot Options Discussed

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week winnowed down the options for a seldom-used, city owned parking lot that could be the catalyst for a major redevelopment project.

Off and on for decades, there have been attempts to redevelop the old Holt’s Landing property at the base of the town at South Philadelphia Avenue to no avail. Recently, a development group has begun moving forward with a potential resort hotel complex on the site, but has run into challenges with meeting the required amount of parking.

Sarantis Properties is well into the planning and design of a new luxury 90-room hotel on the site with a full-range of upscale amenities. The property offers some of the best panoramic views in Ocean City near the Inlet. Adding intrigue to the discussion, the Harrison Group is also considering redeveloping the old Oceanic Motel nearby.

Last month, architect Keith Iott, representing the Sarantis family, approached the Mayor and Council about a potential lease or sale of the town’s old Whiteside property on nearby South Philadelphia Avenue in order to meet the project’s parking needs, along with plans the Harrison Group had for the old Oceanic Motel property nearby at the Inlet. The Sarantis project needs about 34 parking spaces to meet the code.

After Iott’s presentation late last month, a motion was made to direct staff to explore the best options for conveying the property to the developers. On Tuesday, City Manager Doug Miller presented the options to the elected officials.

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Miller explained the first option was a short-term lease with an entity. Miller said the city desired to work with a single entity on the potential sale or lease of the Whiteside property as opposed to multiple parties. Under the first option, the town would enter a short-term lease with the entity at fair market value. The short-term lease option would run for the length of the project’s use of the property and would allow the city to pursue a future realignment of South Philadelphia Avenue.

Another option discussed was a long-term lease with an entity, which would meet the developer’s parking goals, while still leaving open the option to realign South Philadelphia Avenue in the future. Yet another option, considered the cleanest option, would be to simply sell the Whiteside property to the developer.

Miller presented a fourth option, which he recommended. In a hybrid of two options, Miller explained the town could enter a lease with the entity providing parking within 600 feet of the future hotel property, but not necessarily on the Whiteside property. The option would satisfy the developer’s parking needs, while still leaving open the option for a future road realignment.

“The fourth and perhaps best option is to enter into a lease that would not have to be as short-term with an entity at fair market value for parking spaces with 600-feet from the project, but not necessarily Whiteside, leaving assignment of the particular spaces to the town,” he said. “This option will allow the council to pursue the South Philadelphia Avenue right-of-way and adjacent land road realignment should it ever so desire.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca made a motion to direct staff to explore the option of a short-term lease, essentially option four, with the caveat the city wants to work with a single entity. The motion passed 6-0 with Councilman Lloyd Martin absent.

In a letter sent to the Mayor and Council, Iott explained the reasoning for a desire to lease or buy the old Whiteside property.

“… while this stunning location is perfect for the hotel, the site is quite small and unusually shaped. With the lease or purchase of the Whiteside lot, the new hotel will be able to provide amenities and guests experiences that are warranted for this location. While we are not privy to the plans of the Harrison Group, they desire to jointly lease or purchase the lot with Sarantis.”

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.