OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week approved a conditional use application that will allow the connections of Nick’s Mini Golf to construct an 18-hole course and playground structure on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Council voted 6-0, with Councilman Peter Buas abstaining, to approve a conditional use in the LC-1 zoning district and to adopt the findings of fact and conditions for an 18-hole miniature golf course and playground structure to the west of the Philadelphia Avenue and 21st Street intersection. The approval comes after the Ocean City Planning Commission made a favorable recommendation at a Sept. 6 public hearing.
“It has unanimous approval from the planning commission, the staff supports this, it does fit our comprehensive plan and encourages economic growth, and it is zoned appropriately,” said Councilman Will Savage. “So it only makes sense to me, and I do support it.”
For years, Nick’s Jurassic Mini Golf has operated from its location at 1801 Philadelphia Avenue. Last year, however, the town approved plans for a new office complex on the site, prompting Nick’s Golf LLC Principal Nicholas Geracimos to relocate his operation just one block north, to property known as 1901 and 1907 Philadelphia Avenue.
As part of that process, Geracimos received conditional use and site plan approval last year to construct an 18-hole course on that site. A disagreement between Geracimos and the neighboring Islander Motel, however, resulted in a lawsuit that halted Geracimos’ plans.
“The court decided not to allow him to build mini golf there,” Peter Gikurias, the motel’s owner, told the planning commission earlier this month.
Geracimos has since applied for another conditional use permit, which will allow him to build his mini golf course just half a block to the north of the previously approved location, on the other side of the Islander Motel. On Sept. 6, following a lengthy public hearing, the planning commission voted 7-0 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council with conditions that address lighting, noise and hours of operation, among other things.
“We’re pleased to present the recommendation of the planning commission with regard to this conditional use permit in the LC-1 zoning district to permit an 18-hole miniature golf course and accessory playground …,” Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville told the Mayor and Council Tuesday. “There was a copy of the testimony the Islander Motel made at the hearing … The planning commission did consider all the points raised, and I think you’ll find in the draft findings of fact that they have addressed all or most of those points that were made.”
Bordered by the Islander Motel to the south and Mariner’s Watch to the north, the proposed mini golf course will feature an 18-hole course with landscaping and waterfalls, a golf office with retail space, and a playground structure. While the course will be constructed in a manner similar to previously approved site plans, officials say the layout has been reoriented to address the Islander Motel’s concerns.
During the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting, local business owner Adam Lockhart Showell Sr. said he had mediated a meeting between Geracimos and the Gikurias family in an attempt to resolve the dispute over the mini golf course.
“Not until $500,000 of miniature golf materials were purchased and site work had begun that the Gikurias family raised any concerns …,” he told the council. “In my attempt to mediate, I asked Peter and Matilda what they wanted. Nick had addressed all their concerns in a very satisfactory manner. The response was, in short, ‘sell us the property and for the price you paid for it.’”
Showell said he believed the issue would end up in court again but argued that a mini golf course would be an amenity for the Islander Motel.
“Mini golf would be good for Ocean City, good for Nick’s Mini Golf and his family, and good for the Islander Motel,” he said.
Businessman Leighton Moore also came before the council Tuesday in support of Nick’s Mini Golf. He argued more amusements were needed in Ocean City.
“I wholeheartedly agree this project should be allowed to proceed,” he said. “Anytime we can have something to the bemusement and amusement of the people in town, whether they be old or young, or families or grandparents taking their grandkids, we have to preserve our family image.”
Moore said the Gikurias family took issue with the lighting and noise that could emanate from the golf course. He argued, however, that windows on the north side of their property had been boarded up.
“As far as the proximity to the building, I don’t think it really matters when you close your building pretty much up,” he said. “What this is, in my opinion, if I’m allowed to state an opinion, is that the three parcels together – both the parcel to the north, the Islander itself, and the parcel to the south – if each one was worth $1, the cumulative total, if you had control of the whole thing, would probably be worth $5. I think that’s what this is, a land grab. And I think it’s deceitful and I think it’s despicable.”
Ocean City resident George Leukel, however, questioned why “millionaires” had shown up in support of a mini golf course.
“We have a simple solution here,” he said. “We either vote and make our millionaire friends happy, or we vote for the little guy …”
While not at Tuesday’s council meeting, Gikurias and his attorney, Demetrios Kaouris, came before the planning commission earlier this month seeking the denial of Geracimos’ conditional use request. For his part, Gikurias said he was not only concerned about mini golf patrons cutting through his property, but about the potential noise associated with attractions on the site.
“Imagine going to a hotel and 10 feet from your headboard or pillow you have mini golf, which is going to be noisy,” he said at the time. “That’s my main concern.”
Kaouris opined the conditional use request should be denied, as it failed to provide enough parking for the attractions proposed on the site. He also argued that the playground structure – identified as a ropes course – was an amusement and should not be permitted in the LC-1 zoning district.
When asked about the ropes course Tuesday, Neville told the council staff had looked into the matter and had determined the ropes course to be an accessory use.
“We felt this was consistent with the kinds of playgrounds that occur at a number of our restaurants,” he replied. “We did compare this to the location at 34th Street where Planet Maze used to be. That was similarly located on the west side of the highway, in the LC-1 zoning district. That included miniature golf – both indoor and outdoor – playgrounds and laser tag, which is not being proposed at this location. We felt, as a precedent, that represented what is reasonably associated as either secondary or accessory use with miniature golf.”
When asked about the property’s retail space, Geracimos said it would only be open to mini golf patrons.
“We’re serving the same thing out of this one as the previous location on Kingfish and all other locations I have in town,” he said. “It’s the pre-packaged ice creams, cookie sandwiches, we do the Polish ice pre-packaged, bottled water, canned soda, stuff like that.”
Savage said he had resided near Geracimos’ previous mini golf location for many years and acknowledged that Geracimos had been a good neighbor. In reference to the Islander Motel’s concerns about lighting and music, he said he believed Geracimos had made the necessary changes.
“That would mitigate any concern I could foresee a residential person having that may have been witnessed at other golf courses that had older technology,” he said.
With no further discussion, the council voted 6-0, with Buas abstaining, to approve the conditional use application by adopting the findings of fact with five conditions.
“I’ll abstain based on a conflict,” Buas said.