OCEAN CITY – Discussions on the conversion of the former Phillips Crab House property highlighted a resort commission meeting this week.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve a site plan to change the use of the former Phillips Crab House property, located at 21st street. Applicant LUX QOZP Properties LLC proposes converting the old restaurant into 15 multifamily units, office space and storage.
“We did want to support the applicant’s efforts to do this as a conversion of a commercial building,” said Bill Neville, Ocean City’s planning and community development director. “We do feel it’s centrally located to serve a number of businesses in the vicinity. And whether it serves as a place for families to come and stay in multi-bedroom units, or whether it serves as employee housing, in either case we believe this is a good adaptive reuse of the building and would encourage your consideration tonight.”
As proposed, the applicant has plans to convert the restaurant space into 15 multifamily units, with seven units on the first floor, seven units on the second floor, and a three-bedroom manager’s unit on the third floor. Neville said the site plan also includes offices and storage space.
“The required parking is proposed across the street, on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue, just south of the Islander Motel,” he added.
While residential use is being proposed for the site, Neville said the property could accommodate employee housing. Representatives for the applicant noted that the site was designed to meet the most stringent codes, should the building be repurposed.
“In this case, the applicant has wanted to maintain the flexibility either way,” Neville said. “So when we we take a look at the plan, you’ll see it probably will work well as sort of dormitory-style housing if that’s how he chooses to rent it out. But it is designed to also function as either three- or four-bedroom apartments if there’s a market for that.”
Neville also told the commission this week that an addition was built on the east side of the property in 1974 and was utilized for employee housing when Phillips Crab House was in operation. He said that application was not part of the site plan review.
“This is all operated under the same ownership, but this is a conversion of the commercial use of the restaurant, and they will continue to utilize the apartments to the east,” he explained. “The apartments to the east are not part of the site plan application and in this case the density calculation that resulted in 15 apartment units being permitted was calculated on the original area of the restaurant site.”
Neville added that site plans approved for the 1974 addition also encumbered parking across the street, to the north of the Islander Motel. With the commission’s site plan approval, he said the encumbrance of that parking would be released and relocated to lots south of the motel.
“So it’s the transfer of assigned parking to a different set of lots,” he said.
Neville told commission members Tuesday the site plan also included common areas, such as flex space, a vending room and a laundry room, on each floor. He noted that each three- and four-bedroom unit also included living and dining space.
“Moving forward, if the owner ever wants to designate this as employee housing, it will end up being a design that helps to support the main premise we had,” he said. “That is, if you are going to have a concentration of one housing type like this, we wanted to make sure that there was at least enough of that interior shared living space.”
While 51 spaces are required for the proposed conversion, Neville noted the applicant had signed a lease agreement for 60 spaces across the street on Philadelphia Avenue. Commission member Palmer Gillis questioned if there was parking for the addition located to the east of the former restaurant space.
“There is not,” Neville replied. “There are other plans at work that I think will address that. At the moment, ownership has been consolidated to that whole block, plus the block to the north of 21st Street. So the parking that was behind the Phillips commercial center north of 21st Street that had been reserved and allocated for restaurant use is all there for future consideration. But at this point, those apartment buildings are not part of this site plan application, and I think it will be addressed in future projects.”
During Tuesday’s review, LUX QOZP Properties LLC Principal Mike Ramadan said the conversion is just the first of multiple construction phases being planned for his properties. He noted the Phillips Square Shopping Mall to the north of the former restaurant would be the next redevelopment project.
“My plan is to finish the restaurant, convert it to housing, and then start a stage two …,” he said. “It would basically be an entire city block for student housing, centrally located.”
When asked about plans for the former restaurant, Ramadan said his intent is to create employee housing, although he argued there were no strong incentives to do so.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” he replied. “We’re trying to find a way for the city to help us, incentivize us, to convert it into that.”
Commission member Kevin Rohe noted that, if approved, the project would be the largest workforce housing development in the resort.
“Hats off to you because this is definitely the biggest employee housing that we have seen in Ocean City as of right now,” he said.
During the presentation, Patrick Angell of Angell Design detailed the property’s conversion to residential use. While the project calls for a complete renovation of the building’s interior, he noted the exterior would remain largely unchanged.
“The outside is only changing by a matter of only adding windows to meet the requirements of the code for the apartments,” he said. “The façade on the outside is staying the same with the trim and all that stuff. It was important for [the owner] to keep that look and style of that building because it’s been around for so long.”
One commission member questioned the lack of storage in each of the units. If converted to employee housing, she said there would be no place for residents to store their possessions.
Ramadan said the design includes additional space for dressers and lockers.
“We’re doing furniture instead of built-ins,” he said. “That way they can be replaced if they’re damaged, and it’s locked.”
When asked about the sprinkler system, Ramadan said it would be updated.
“Everything is going to be brand new, from the electric to air conditioning, to all the sprinkler systems,” he said. “There’s not one thing that will be pre-existing other than the structure – the concrete walls and the exterior.”
After further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan.