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Development proposed for OC inlet bayside lot

(Oct. 4, 2013) The largest development project in years for Ocean City’s far-downtown area was presented to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission this week, with the board requesting that the design be revisited at its next meeting to resolve vehicle access issues.

“This is a significant spot in this town,” said Commission Chair Pam Buckley. “Everyone getting bottlenecked in because there’s only one access for a 300-seat restaurant is a big problem.”

The plan, as presented to the commission, called for a 10,893-square-foot facility to be used as a restaurant and tiki bar as well as employee housing. The restaurant would occupy the first floor of the three-story structure, with an open-air bar deck on the second floor as well as a multi-bedroom housing unit. The third floor would house a more upscale manager’s apartment.

The building is sited on South Philadelphia Avenue between what is, legally, South Division and South First Streets. The lot is currently parking used by the pier that houses the Sea Rocket.

In reality, however, the site is not between any streets, and is essentially a triangular lot. To its north, South Division Street is a pedestrian plaza that is now the main thoroughfare of Sunset Park. To the south, South First Street consists of a few feet of unimproved right-of-way in front of the fishing center.

The lot faces South Philadelphia Avenue to its east, and the bay cuts from the northwest corner of the property down to its southern tip. Only one curb cut for vehicle access to Philadelphia currently exists.

“It’s a tight site, there’s no question about that,” said architect Keith Iott, on behalf of developer John Stamato. “We’re bounded by city streets to the north and south that are inaccessible.”

Given the single access point, and the city’s requirement for 63 parking spaces per the building’s size, Iott had designed the facility’s parking lot without any circular flow. Patrons would have to drive down the parking isles and exit the same way they came in.

Delivery and garbage trucks would have to park in the lot’s main access lane and then back out to leave, something which perturbed the commission.

“I just envision this being a driving debacle,” Commissioner Peck Miller said.

“All of the traffic going to the inlet lot has to go by that point,” Commissioner Lauren Taylor said. “We don’t want people to be angry about the traffic before they even park for the day.”

“I’ve owned restaurants, and I’ve never had a truck that will deliver exactly when you want it to,” Miller said. “If a second truck comes in, nobody gets in or out of the lot.”

The commission suggested they bring back a modified design, eliminating a few parking spaces to allow for an exit at the south end of the property. The city’s South First Street right-of-way could possibly be incorporated into the design.

A reduction in parking, however, would require a reduction in the size of the building. Iott said he could eliminate the residential units from the design, which would reduce the required spaces by four. The residences could always be added back in later if a work-around was found.

“There’s no way this is being built by next summer as a three-story structure anyway,” Iott said. “The plan is to build the first story in the coming year and continue next year.”

What he would prefer, Iott said, was for the city to finally institute a system for the downtown zoning district whereby developers could pay a fee to the city instead of providing parking spaces that limit the usage of tightly packed lots.

“If there was a feeling that the city would be willing to do that, we would certainly be amenable,” Iott said. “As it is, 63 spaces is not going to be enough for this property at peak capacity. The owners understand that they will need to rely heavily on public transportation to make this work.”

Miller offered a motion that the commission “approve the design based on the elimination of the residential units, and knowing that [Iott] will come back to us with a second means of egress.”

Iott also said that the developers were amenable to the city establishing public access rights to the boardwalk on the property, which borders the bay, potentially as part of a larger bayside boardwalk system that the city has desired to establish for some time.

“Obviously it would be in the developer’s best interest to have that bayside boardwalk and the public visibility,” Iott said.

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