Ocean City moves forward to buy car lot again

August 14- Ocean City Sentinel

By Eric Avidessian

OCEAN CITY – Call it déjà vu.

Council on Aug. 8 introduced an ordinance to acquire through purchase or condemnation the former Ocean City Chevrolet car lot almost a year after they did the same thing for the same property.

A price has not been determined.

Last year the city bonded $9 million to purchase the dealership property which occupied a city block on Simpson Avenue from the owners, Klause Enterprises LLC.

The city wanted the 86,688 square foot tract, or 1.9 acres, preserved from residential development.

Fairness in Taxes (FIT), a taxpayer watchdog group, saying the $9 million sales price was too high, started a petition drive last October to halt the sale and put the property sale to a public vote. The petition drive proved ultimately successful, and after the signatures were verified, the city repealed the property’s sale, ending the deal with Klause Enterprises.

Klause Enterprises – brothers Harry and Jerry Klause – then proposed a 21-unit housing development for the car dealership.

Seven homes are planned along Haven Avenue, while 14 homes are to be built along Simpson Avenue, according to the plans. Each lot will have landscaping, a driveway, and access to a rear alley bisecting the lot.

In May, Mayor Jay Gillian announced that the city is getting new appraisals for the property.

The property, a patchwork of different lots, consists of: 1600 Haven Ave. block 1606, lot 3; 1601-43 Simpson Ave.; 1620 Haven Ave.; 1628-38 Haven Ave.; 1640 Haven Ave.; and 1644-46 haven Ave. lot 1606, lots 2, 3.01, 4, 5 and 6.

City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said the city will authorize the acquisition by either negotiation through contract or condemnation if an agreement can’t be reached with the property owners.

“We’re going to be in negotiations for the acquisition of this entire lot,” McCrosson said. “We’ll make sure that it’s out in public, you could get comments from the public and this will be the first step in that process.”

Councilman Michael DeVlieger said “everyone is pretty much in harmony” with the city acquiring the lots.

Last year, the city floated several ideas for the land, including a possible state-of-the-art public safety building, recreation, parking or open space.

Currently the property contains the car dealership building, garage, and paved parking lot.

Gillian, in an Aug. 9 statement, noted the city hasn’t reached an agreement with the property’s owners, and the ordinance only starts the negotiation process.

“My position has not wavered since we attempted to purchase the property at this time last year: I don’t want to see this property developed with more housing. It’s a truly rare opportunity to protect an entire city block on our densely developed island. With plans now approved for single-family housing there, this is a matter of some urgency. Protecting this land from development is our plan. It’s as simple as that,” Gillian said.

Gillian urged public input on how the city can use the block.

“We are not currently considering this location as a potential site for a new public safety building. It will be reserved for open space, recreation or some other public use,” Gillian said.

FIT President David Hayes said his group favors the ordinance, but wants a plan from the city on the property’s use.

“We agree with this ordinance. It’s how we should have treated these properties in the first place, we should have been considering all of them for condemnation or purchase,” Hayes said.

Hayes said the city should produce a clear strategy for the entire city block.

“What are we doing with this property? It’s being purchased with tax dollars, we need to have a plan. Without a plan it’s just hand-waving. If it’s going to be open space, say it’s open space. If it’s going to be a public service building, that’s great…. If you can’t decide let’s have a workshop and get people’s input,” Hayes said.

The ordinance’s second reading and public hearing will be held Aug. 22.

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