(April 26, 2019) Ocean City Planning Commission members last week overcame some initial trepidation to unanimously approve a zoning reclassification.

The move was puzzle piece in the larger picture of the city’s plans to consolidate several civic facilities in a single area.

According to a staff report, a 2016 City Council resolution and 2017 “Campus Master Plan” called for incremental property acquisition of several land parcels between 66th and 67th streets.

There are plans to upgrade the Ocean City Public Works and transit facility on 65th Street, which also includes buildings for the district court, public safety, solid waste transfer, wastewater treatment, maintenance and public works. The city also hopes to build a new water treatment plant north of 66th Street.

What commission members had to consider last Tuesday was a zoning classification change from local commercial to bayside mixed use, or BMUD, to help facilitate a land swamp between the Town of Ocean City and the Wenzlaff Family LLLP.

Mark Wenzlaff operates Advanced Marina on 66th Street and plans to his use his portion of the land acquired from the city to build four new boat racks.

“In general terms, our staff analysis and the review by our department is that this is a logical extension of the BMUD zoning district that allows the growth of an existing commercial marina operation, and it allows the growth of our civic facilities in a logical way that assembles multiple parcels into usable land areas,” Planning and Zoning Director Bill Neville said.

Neville added both the city and Wenzlaff Family requested the zoning change.

“The rezoning application is part of a long process that involves a number of steps,” he said, adding it would be appropriate to approve the request “as a conditional rezoning.”

“There would be a substantial improvement with a concept plan … and I think it’s a good tool that just gives the assurance to both parties that we know what’s going to happen on either side of that zoning line,” Neville said.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said redevelopment plans date back to 2007, when an initial master plan was hatched.

Hal Adkins

Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins speaks during a planning commission meeting last week. The commission approved a rezoning to help facilitate a land swap between the town and a private business. 

Also part of the larger picture is a former VFW building owned by the town, and two buildings on 67th Street that had operated as the World Gym. According to Adkins, a pre-engineered structure to the west would be demolished and turned into a parking lot on May 2, while the gym will be allowed to continue its operations in the other building until Dec. 31.

Adkins added the city is in talks with Sandpiper Energy to purchase another site in the area.

“The ultimate goal is that we will end up with a rather large block of land … for the construction of an eight-MGD [million gallon per day] water treatment plant,” Adkins said. “If I stay on schedule, [the plant] may break ground in about four, to four-and-a-half years from now.”

Commission members appeared to be in favor of the plan, but Wenzlaff asked for an elaboration of the conditions mentioned by Neville.

“That was never brought up before to me,” he said.

Neville said the commission has the ability to impose certain criteria, if it wished.

“I’m looking to the future, when both properties may develop with their intended use but then, fast forward 10 years, and perhaps we’re not riding boats anymore and there’s a higher and better use for this BMUD district,” he said. “By rezoning it today, you’re doing it with an expectation that it would be for the expansion of the existing marine use.

“It’s just a measure of protection for both parties, moving forward,” Neville continued. “It’s a way of assuring that we know what’s going to happen next to the future water treatment plant.”

Adkins countered such conditions had not been part of the negotiations.

“At no time in previous discussions with [the] Wenzlaff Family nor the mayor and council … in brokering this deal was there any discussion whatsoever of putting contingencies on it,” he said. “It was very clear, at least on my end … that whatever benefits are currently afforded a property owner with BMUD zoning would be what would be provided to them.”

Adkins said a conceptual site plan was provided by his office that showed the additional boat racks, and it’s his understanding that is the currently the plan for that area, but the family should not be restricted from changing its mind in the future.

“When they chose to retire from the business and the son takes over – and say at some point he wants to consider a redevelopment – that was never discussed as a limitations in any of the agreements we’ve had with them,” he said, adding any development plans would have to come before the planning commission anyway.

Wenzlaff also added, “We are currently running it as a marine operation and plan to continue that, but the condition thing caught my attention as, what if my heirs have to sell that and something happens to one of us? I think it would encumber them to have to deal with conditions that are unknown, and that was my concern.”

Neville said imposing conditions was a suggestion, not a deal-breaker, and the normal site plan approval process was probably adequate as a safety net.

Commission Chairwoman Pam Greer Buckley said conditions could have been imposed if there was public objection, but no one weighed in against the project during a public hearing.

“That gives us a clean go-ahead,” she said, just before officially closing the hearing.

Commission member Palmer Gillis added a word of support for Adkins.

“The public works department is a totally unappreciated … and this town is blessed to have Mr. Adkins as its department head for the length of time that he’s been here, and we should thank him for the great job that he’s done over the years,” Gillis said. “Your vision and long-term planning just are really important to this town and I hope people understand that.”

Commission member Peck Miller moved to approve the rezoning, without conditions. Palmer seconded and the vote was unanimous.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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