Brothers Look to Give Oceanfront Retreat New Life
Christian Brothers get feedback from neighbors on a potential plan to renovate a century-old landmark in Ocean City.
After more than a century of worship at their landmark oceanfront retreat on Central Avenue at 31st Street, the De La Salle Christian Brothers say they want to be in Ocean City for another 100 years.
The Brothers met with their Ocean City neighbors at Our Lady of Good Counsel on Tuesday night to share potential plans for redeveloping part of the Ocean Rest Educational Center for continuing use as an educational retreat and place of worship.
"Our hope is to be a good neighbor," said Brother James Martino, director of administration for the District of Eastern North America. "Community input is really important."
Martino said the Brothers have made no formal plans for the project and wanted to get feedback from the community before proceeding. The Brothers must seek final approval for their plan from within the church, and they would have to go through the process of state and local permitting.
Ocean Rest consists of two three-story buildings on an 8-acre oceanfront property. Brother Joseph Willard said the state fire marshal prohibited the Brothers from using the top floors of the buildings about five or six years ago, and now they are no longer permitted to use the second floors.
The basic concept for redevelopment is as follows:
- Demolish the northern building.
- Sell two 40-by-100-foot lots that conform with residential zoning (R40) for the neighborhood.
- Use the proceeds to renovate the southern building at the same height and using the same footprint.
Willard said the Christian Brothers, also known as the Brother of the Christian Schools, have been in the same location in Ocean City since 1898.
The redevelopment would upgrade 19th-century plumbing, conform to modern fire code and Disabilities Act requirements, and install an HVAC system to allow year-round use of the property.
The chapel from the northern building would be moved to the first floor of the renovated southern building. The existing complex includes 98 small rooms, and the new building would include just 28 rooms, each with a bathroom. To meet state and local requirements, the plan includes 32 parking spaces.
Because of the complexities related to the top floors being off limits, the Brothers said they will not use the property this summer, and, in only a best case scenario, could they receive all permits and return to the property in May 2013, they said. Attorney Steve Nehmad and environmental consultant Junetta Dix presented details on the plan and answered questions.
Residents in attendance asked about sight lines, traffic patterns, site design and a host of other issues, but they were generally receptive to the idea of a continued presence of a good neighbor in the Brothers.
"At least it's not all crappy speculation homes," Susanne Morello said, summing up what seemed to be a prevailing sentiment.