Prelim Approval for Development- 21 homes slated for car dealership parcel; FIT asks about city buying or condemning lot

OCEAN CITY – The Planning Board on May 1 gave preliminary approval for a 21-unit housing subdivision on the former Ocean City Chevrolet lots the city wanted to buy for $9 million.

The project encompasses an entire block the city tried to purchase for $9 million last September. Mayor Jay Gillian and city council proposed several possible uses for the project, including green space, recreation, or a new public safety building.

Fairness in Taxes (FIT), a taxpayer watchdog group, cited the $9 million sales price as too high, and started a petition drive 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 The petition drive proved ultimately successful, and after the signatures were verified, the city repealed the property’s sale, ending the deal with Klause Enterprises.

The tract consists of five separate lots totaling 85,688 square feet, or 1.9 acres: 1601-1643 Simpson Ave., 1620, 1628-38, 1640 and 1644-46 Haven Ave.

Harry and Jerry Klause of Klause Enterprises LLC own the lots.

Avery Teitler, attorney for Klause Enterprises, said the applicants were seeking a preliminary major subdivision approval, preliminary major site plan approval, and conditional use variance to subdivide the existing property into 21 lots.

He said though the lots will be varying sizes, they will be at least 30 feet by 115 feet. On each lot the applicants are proposing to construct conforming single-family dwellings. Single-family dwellings are conditionally permitted in the Drive In Business Zone, Teitler said.

Teitler said the project missed adding a 22nd lot by a half foot, so a larger home will be constructed on the end parcel at the corner of Simpson Avenue and 16th Street.

Project engineer Jason Sciullo of Sciullo Engineering Services, LLC said in addition to the single-family homes, a private driveway will run through the middle of the development, giving homes rear access.

Seven homes will be built facing Haven Avenue, while 14 homes will be built along Simpson Avenue, according to the plans.

Since the property is mostly paved car lot, Sciullo said green space will be installed.

He said public sewer, water and gas will run underground through the new alley and “cause minimal impact.”

Project architect Christopher Halliday said the variety of coastal home styles enhances the area and gives the neighborhood character.

“Each home was designed to be unique from the neighboring homes,” Halliday said. “We did this so the streetscape will feel like a neighborhood.”

Halliday said each home is designed with two stories. He noted the intention of the various designs was to “create a coastal aesthetically pleasing neighborhood.”

Planning Board Engineer Randall Scheule said a homeowner’s association will maintain the proposed private driveway and access easement.

The plans will be revised to address the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit’s recommendation for a one-way driveway northbound.

Scheule said the proposed development will create additional on-street parking spaces, and that the applicant will coordinate the location of those spaces with the police department.

Plans have been revised to provide full curb replacement and sidewalk on both street frontages, Scheule said.

Planning Board Engineer David Scheidegg said there’s a street opening moratorium on 16th Street until May 2021.

Residents questioned the development’s impact on flooding and parking.

Bernardine McLaughlin of West Avenue, said she appreciates the new alleyway in the proposed development as it would alleviate street parking. McLaughlin said she was concerned the development would take overflow parking away from the adjacent community center.

“In the summer when we have swim meets there’s cars all over the place. Since the lot was empty the public has been able to use that, but that’s going away,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said another concern was habitual flooding at 16th Street and Haven Avenue.

“I know they’re saying that they’re putting the grading in. To me that means more water is going to go into the street and the street already floods,” McLaughlin said. “I know you’re saying engineering-wise it’s not supposed to affect the flooding. If, after the fact it does, is there any way to get some relief from the city to help with any flooding?”

Planning Board Chairman John Loeper said flood mediation falls under the city’s auspices, not the Planning Board. He said the plan is “totally conforming to the ordinance standard of what we have today.”

Theresa McHale of West Avenue said the city spent a tremendous amount of money on long-range plans for flood mediation. She noted that plans call for work around 16th Street and the moratorium against underground work on the same street until 2021.

“There’s a reason why the city did this long-range plan to alleviate flooding and it’s getting worse. This to me is going to make it even worse,” McHale said. “To me it sounds like we are contradicting everything that we’re doing to try and mediate the flooding.”

Loeper said the lot is currently concrete, but plans include pervious surfaces such as grass.

“It’s going from total concrete to something that absorbs, according to the ordinance,” Loeper said.

David Breeden of Victoria Lane and FIT vice president, said council passed an ordinance that acquires the property through either sale or condemnation.

“The city passed an ordinance we’re going to either buy or condemn. Has the city reached out to the property owners to offer a purchase price? Has the city reached out to the property owners that they’re going to condemn? And if the city reaches out to them tomorrow and says we’re condemning, what happens to the application?” Breeden said. “The city passed a law. Laws have to be followed.”

The board voted unanimously 6-0 to grant preliminary approval. The applicants would have to address items from the city planner and engineer and bring the application back for final approval.

Loeper suggested the applicants should use pavers instead of concrete.

“If the applicant will would move forward with red block pavers we would have more impervious surface to absorb water on the property,” Loeper said.

Asked if there’s still a possibility Klause Enterprises LLC could strike a deal to sell the property to the city, Teitler said “there’s always a possibility” the city can buy the property.

“I wasn’t involved in any negotiations of the city,” Teitler said, adding there aren’t any plans to purchase it.

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