Mixed-Use Retail, Seasonal Housing Project Approved

OCEAN CITY – Satisfied it meets the various code requirements including parking and a lighting plan, for example, resort planners this week approved a site plan for the redevelopment of an uptown commercial mixed-use and seasonal employee housing project.

Members of the Ocean City Planning Commission had before them on Tuesday a site plan review for the redevelopment of an existing commercial facility at 82nd Street and Coastal Highway for a mixed-use project with retail on the first floor and seasonal workforce housing with 33 beds on the second floor. The building is currently home to the Hatland retail business, but the property owner, Avi Sibony, is proposing a redevelopment of the existing structure to include workforce housing for employees of his multiple businesses in town.

The structure was built in 1985 as home to a savings and loan company. It has remained commercial since, although it has gone through different incarnations over the years. Most recently, it has been home to the Hatland retail store.

Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy explained the proposed project, with a waiver from the parking requirements from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), met the requirements for a mixed-use project with seasonal workforce housing on the second floor. Gordy explained the project would have required 19 parking spaces, but with the BZA waiver, the project as planned will provide 14.

The applicant and architect Keith Iott said the property owner had planned to expand the existing retail space on the site by removing the second floor. However, he said the owner changed gears and wanted a design that would create workforce seasonal housing for his employees.

“The original scenario was to hollow out the second floor and make it all retail,” he said. “He then thought a good plan was to provide affordable workforce housing on the second floor for his employees. The idea is this isn’t just for seasonal employees. Many of his businesses are opened year-round, so these rooms will be occupied for much of the year.”

The plan calls for seven rooms on the second floor that would accommodate 33 employees. Iott explained the rooms would provide 40-square feet of net living space for each tenant, which is more than the code requires, along with the appropriate amount of open areas, common areas and kitchen areas.

Of course, aesthetics are subjective, but Iott said the plan represents a significant improvement over the existing building’s predominantly black exteriors.

“Honestly, the existing building is pretty horrific,” he said. “We’re going to soften the color pallet considerably. I don’t know what the idea was with the black, but it is pretty rough. The building does have some nice features though that we want to take advantage of.”

Questions were raised about the possibility of including eight-foot sidewalks on the property’s Coastal Highway frontage, an accommodation the planning commission has sought for redevelopment projects in recent years, and Iott said it could be accomplished. There were also questions raised about the potential impact on lighting from the facility’s retail and parking areas on the neighboring residential areas, and Iott assured the commission the detailed plan would ensure all lighting would be cast or deflected onto the property.

Planning Commission chair Pam Buckley said she liked the plan as presented as it continued a recent trend for mixed-use redevelopment with a workforce housing component added.

“I really like when we have a project with a business and employee housing,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Joel Brous made a motion to approve the site plan for the proposed redevelopment projects with conditions, including the eight-foot sidewalks, an approved lighting plan, ample bike racks and the staff recommendations. The commission approved the motion unanimously.

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.