Changes Underway At Saltwater 75 Property; Neighbors Share Objections To Tiki Bar, Privacy Wall

Changes Underway At Saltwater 75 Property; Neighbors Share Objections To Tiki Bar, Privacy Wall
The connections of Saltwater 75 are in the process of removing a tiki bar, pictured above on the beach. Surrounding neighbors say the structure was not approved for the location. Photo Courtesy of the Saltwater 75 Facebook Page

OCEAN CITY – Changes are underway at an Ocean City restaurant after neighbors expressed concerns.

A tiki bar constructed at Saltwater 75, the restaurant being built at the former location of BJ’s on the Water, is being removed after neighbors shared their objections with the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC). Area residents said the tiki bar on the beach was not what was originally approved for the site and would increase noise at the property.

“I went up there this morning and all is now removed down to the concrete base, and it will be razed as well,” Joe Moore, the attorney representing Saltwater 75, said Thursday. “My clients advise they are trying to complete the removal by this weekend. They are well underway.”

Last week, neighbors of Saltwater 75 planned to attend a meeting with the BLC where Moore was seeking approval of modifications to the restaurant layout. The board was expected to consider a request to decrease the privacy wall at the restaurant from 20 feet to 17 feet and was going to ask for approval to relocate the outdoor bar from a spot close to the restaurant to the beach.

Thee Christina C resident Carol Armstrong said she and her fellow neighbors were upset about the proposed changes, particularly since they’d already been made.

“The licensee is coming before you for permission to serve alcohol in an already-altered premises that will be far more disturbing to our peace and tranquility than the premises you approved 18 months ago,” Armstrong wrote to the BLC prior to the meeting. “Our neighbors are united in opposition to the licensee’s requests.”

While several planned to attend the meeting, in the end they did not, as the request to alter the premises was pulled from the agenda. Moore said that was at his client’s request. According to Moore his client, who also owns the Ropewalk at 82nd Street, held an open house for neighbors the Saturday before the meeting and just two people showed up.

With the request withdrawn from the agenda, however, Armstrong and her neighbors felt even more frustrated about the situation. Armstrong said the premises had already been altered without BLC permission.

“The situation demands a public hearing …,” she subsequently wrote to the board. “The Board of License Commissioners approved transfer of an existing restaurant license to a new, larger restaurant, after imposing conditions to protect our neighborhood. What has been constructed is not the facility that the liquor board approved, and the changes to the exterior are harmful to the surrounding 100%-residential neighborhood. Therefore, I allege that the owners of Saltwater 75 are in violation of the liquor board’s conditions for transfer of the license. I demand a competent investigation of the as-built premises and a hearing on this non-compliance at the board’s April meeting.”

Residents of nearby Tobin’s Quarters on 74th Street said they were concerned the modifications would increase noise in the neighborhood and create more of a nightclub atmosphere rather than that of a restaurant.

“The current liquor license restrictions are based on Saltwater 75’s sworn testimony that the only bar on the beach would be a small, 2-sided, 12 seat bar tucked into the rear corner of the building,” Ruth Vernet, another Thee Christina C resident, said in an email. “They also promised to be ‘good neighbors’ to the surrounding residents. Then, without notice to neighbors, Saltwater 75 constructed a large, 4-sided ‘tiki bar’ on the beach and tried to get retroactive approval from the Liquor Board during the off-season. That’s not proper, that’s not ethical, and that sure as heck is not neighborly.”

When contacted this week, Tom Coates, the BLC attorney, indicated the board was following the situation.

“The board is aware of the issues and the concerns of the neighbors,” Coates said. “A hearing may be scheduled in April if the licensee does not take corrective action.”

In an interview this week, Moore confirmed that the bar was being removed. As far as the wall, he said it was still under construction. He added that some area residents had expressed concern about the restaurant’s beach on the bay as well. That, however, he says is under the purview of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

“We are under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) as to our shoreline,” Moore said. “We got approval from MDE to locate our beach where it is.”

As far as the restaurant’s privacy wall and its proximity to the water, he said that was decided by MDE as well as the fire marshal.

Moore added that in response to objections neighbors shared when the license was initially transferred, the restaurant was not permitted to have outside music past 8 p.m. and couldn’t seat patrons on the beach past 10 p.m.

“The board did that in response to concerns from the neighbors,” he said.

Moore added that his clients had faced opposition from neighbors when they developed Ropewalk at 82nd Street.

“Those same neighbors are now some of our best customers,” he said.

Moore believes the Saltwater 75 team just needs time to show area residents that they have good intentions and don’t want to harm the neighborhood.

“If my clients get the chance, they can show what they’ve shown at 82nd Street,” Moore said. “They’re responsible, experienced operators.”

Armstrong said neighbors still have concerns but are hoping to work with the connections of Saltwater 75.

“Now that the liquor board’s attorney has acted, I hope the proprietors of Saltwater 75 will come to our neighborhood with options for resolving our remaining issues,” Armstrong said. “This cove is a peaceful place for watching amazing birdlife and spectacular sunsets and we hope Saltwater 75 will become the good neighbor it has testified that it wants to be.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.