Applicant Asks for More Time on Plan to Subdivide Wawa Property
The Zoning Board will wait to consider a request for a variance to build duplexes at the vacant property at the corner of Fourth Street and West Avenue.
Midway through a Wednesday zoning hearing on a plan to subdivide a long-vacant Wawa Food Market property at Fourth Street and West Avenue into six lots for new duplexes, the applicant called for a time-out.
Representatives of Wawa and a potential buyer asked to table their application for required use and density variances, and the board consented.
Lack of revenue forced that Wawa location to close about four years ago, and Wawa has been unable to sell the property to another business. The 300 block of West Avenue is a neighborhood-business zone that calls for businesses on the first-floor with residential units permitted above. The applicant sought variances to allow purely residential units.
In failed attempts to sell the property to another business, Wawa had asked that any potential buyer consent to a deed restriction that would prohibit them from operating a competing convenience food store, a coffee store, a doughnut store, sandwich store or fuel-dispensing store at the location. The restriction would also apply to any of a potential buyer's successors.
But at Wednesday's zoning hearing, the applicant revealed that they had decided to abandon that deed-restriction requirement a year ago.
That announcement surprised Zoning Board members, and direct and persistent questions about what efforts Wawa had made to let potential buyers know about that change appeared to give the applicants second thoughts.
But after the meeting, the attorney representing the applicants, Avery S. Teitler, said he wanted to check with his clients before discussing the reasons for requesting to table the application.
The hearing is the latest chapter in the saga of the vacant Wawa. Passions on both sides of the issue have run high because it revolves around a central question: Can Ocean City retain small business owners on an island where their land is far more valuable than their enterprises?
One side asks what business can succeed where Wawa failed? Can a small business owner afford to buy a piece of Ocean City's pricey real estate, equip a new business and make a go of it on an island where the year-round population has fallen by 24 percent in the last decade? They ask if it wouldn't be better to allow new homes to fill out an already residential block than to look at a vacant lot (and all the attendant problems) for another four years.
The other side asks if Ocean City will ultimately cease to be a year-round community with the selling off of the island to duplex developers. They see a self-defeating cycle of fewer year-round businesses, fewer jobs, fewer residents and ultimately then few customers for year-round businesses. They believe the city should abide by a Master Plan that designates areas for businesses and residences. And they believe the city should have the patience to outlast a bad economy in the interest of maintaining a rational balance for the future.
In public comment, speakers touched on those themes.
On March 24, 2011, a bid to change the zoning designation on the 300 block of West Avenue by ordinance failed in a rare tie vote of City Council.
Council was considering the second reading of an ordinance that would change the west side of it to a residential zone.
Councilman Keith Hartzell had proposed the ordinance change in February to recognize the reality of what exists on the block: residential duplexes and one vacant business, the former Wawa property.
Because the city’s Planning Board had determined that the change was “not substantially consistent” with the city’s Master Plan, the vote required a two-thirds majority of council. And because Council President Michael Allegretto recused himself from the vote (to avoid a perceived conflict related to a real estate colleague), the ordinance change needed four votes to pass.
Council members Scott Ping, Karen Bergman and Hartzell voted in favor. Council members Roy Wagner, John Flood and John Kemenosh voted against. The motion failed with the 3-3 vote.
The ongoing debate over the issue has been fueled by the fact that the Wawa property went under contract soon after the first reading of the ordinance change in February. But a property transaction has not been completed, and the potential buyer was not named at Wednesday's hearing.
The applicant is listed as "352 West Avenue, LLC." The LLC was formed on March 4, 2011, and the sole registered agent is Avery S. Teitler at 109 34th Street in Ocean City, according to state Division of Revenue records.