Letter to Editor: Vote Down Zoning Variance for Vacant Wawa Property
At a zoning hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 18), owners will seek a use variance to subdivide two parcels into six residential lots at the corner of Fourth Street and West Avenue.
Here we go again with the Wawa property.
One would think there isn’t a commercial parcel of land anywhere in Ocean City that wouldn’t be better suited to high density residential development. The vacant Wawa parcel along the business corridor of West Avenue is just crying out for development, isn’t it? If not for the Planning Board’s attempts to ensure planned and balanced growth, some builder could make a tidy profit off of the unutilized commercial land here in Ocean City. What a waste huh? What better use for vacant lot than to build duplexes you can make money from, right?
Some of you might be convinced that no commercial application will be found for the Wawa parcel … that there just isn’t demand for commercial here ... that if we’re going to utilize those vacant lots we need to rezone them for residential development. You know, you may be right, but until some effort is made to promote and attract commercial investment in Ocean City, I like so many other citizens of this town remain unconvinced.
Don’t tell me it can’t be done until you try. The bigger question is: Will an attempt be made? What has been driving Ocean City for as long as most of us can remember is profit pure and simple. People make a lot of money here by building duplexes. Why would they be interested in doing anything else?
The story of the Wawa is a long and sordid affair. I’ve been told that an attempt was made before to obtain a use variance for the Wawa property from the Zoning Board. Then in February of 2011, City Council advanced ordinance 11-04 with the intent to rezone the west side of West Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets from NB to R2-30, including (of course) the Wawa parcel. In March of 2011, planner Michelle Taylor issued her finding to the Planning Board that the ordinance advanced in council was inconsistent with the Master Plan, at which time the Planning Board unanimously voted inconsistency. The ordinance to rezone the West side of that block was defeated on second reading. Failing in those attempts ,it’s now back to the Zoning Board. This isn’t going to stop is it?
What does need to stop is land use by variance. Recently a developer was successful at getting a commercial property along 13th and Haven rezoned. The argument for doing so (in effect) was that so many use variances had been issued on that block in the past that rezoning the one remaining commercial property would “complete the block” … that that block had already been “de facto rezoned”. Please! Far from issuing a use variance for a property here and there we’re now rezoning entire blocks by variance!
The one agency in this town responsible for planned (and not purely demand-driven) growth has consistently tried to preserve and protect commercial uses in Ocean City from residential development. It has conceded much already to residential development, allowing for residential use in commercial zones through the NB zone. But some is never enough, is it? As long as there is a single vacant commercial lot, you can bet that some developer will make an attempt to rezone it for high density residential development.
In that fight, this Planning Board has been consistent. In the past decade through two master plans and a third consistency review, it has sought to maintain some kind of balance here in Ocean City and to preserve some commercial use. In the most recent master plan review in 2006 (prior to the current one) it suggested incentives for encouraging restaurants and commercial use.
Throughout this period, it has consistently found that the best use for that block (and for the Wawa lot in particular) is commercial use. Failing to sway the Zoning Board (initially), then City Council and the Planning Board (through its vote of inconsistency), an application is being made once again to the Zoning Board. It would appear that some developer is looking for the weakest link, and folks, they must think it’s you.
Unplanned and demand driven growth has got to stop. These use variances have got to stop. We’ve already lost so much of what made Ocean City a livable town and a year-round community. As a community, we need commercial for the goods and services it provides. We need the jobs it provides. With jobs there will likely be an increase in residency. With an increase in residency will come an increased demand for goods and services. We’re at a tipping point here. One of two things is going to happen. This town is going to shut down over winter, or someone, somewhere, is going to do something about it.
As a citizen, I’m calling for leadership in our city government. I ‘m calling for a vision for the future of Ocean City that goes beyond profit margins and some peculiar notion of manifest destiny run amok. This Zoning Board, too, needs to think in terms of the future. It needs to stick to the plan, Stan.
Vote this use variance DOWN!
— Eric Sauder