City Council voted on Thursday to rezone two commercial properties that have sat vacant and unsold for extended periods of time.
Council unanimously passed the second and final readings of two ordinances — one rezoning part of the 300 block of West Avenue (the bay side) that includes a long-closed Wawa, and the other rezoning part of the 1500 block of Haven Avenue (the ocean side) that is home to the closed Peter Lumber Company. The second ordinance included several other zoning changes in addition to the 1500 block of Haven Avenue.
THE WAWA BLOCK
The Wawa Food Market at the corner of Fourth Street and West Avenue remains unsold, because Wawa (at least initially) would not sell to anybody who would develop a competing coffee shop or convenience store. Zoning did not permit Wawa to sell to anybody who would develop a duplex. Meanwhile, the rest of the block is occupied by duplexes — which do not comply with current zoning laws.
The existing zone (Neighborhood Business) calls for duplexes that operate a business out of the first floor. The designation was created, in part, to help stem the disappearance of neighborhood businesses in favor of duplexes.
In pushing for a zoning change earlier this year, Councilman Keith Hartzell argued that a change would help Wawa sell the property and help the existing duplexes move into compliance. He said the change recognizes the reality of what exists on the block.
Others argued for a "zone it and they will come" approach to keeping the commercial zoning and attracting new businesses.
In the end, the ordinance included what City Council members called "an excellent compromise."
The ordinance rezones the bay side of West Avenue between Third and Fourth streets. It rezones part of the 190-foot-wide Wawa property (40 feet of frontage) to mixed commercial/residential use (commercial use on the first floor and residences above). It rezones the remainder of the half-block from Neighborhood Business to residential (R-2-30 or duplexes with 30-foot frontages).
Council President Michael Allegretto recused himself from a 6-0 vote because of a potential conflict related to his job in the real estate industry.
PETER LUMBER AND OTHER CHANGES
Council unanimously approved the rezoning of the 1500 block of Haven Avenue (the former Peter Lumber Company property on the ocean side of the street) from commercial (Drive-In Business) to residential (R-1-30 or single-family homes with 30-foot frontages).
Council also approved the following changes:
- Rezoning the 1200 block of Wesley Avenue (ocean side) from Residential Multi-Family to R-2-30 (or duplexes with 30-foot frontages).
- Rezoning the 1300 block of Wesley Avenue (ocean side) from Residential Multi-Family to R-2-30 (or duplexes with 30-foot frontages).
At the request of Haven Avenue resident Rick Lawson (who spoke in public comment), a portion of the ordinance was removed from consideration: rezoning parts of the 300 block of Haven Avenue from North End Neighborhood to Residential Multi-Family.
Lawson argued that the residential family neighborhood on that block is more in keeping with the existing North End Neighborhood zone than a multi-family one, and the administration ultimately agreed.
Each of the changes approved by City Council on Tuesday was recommended by the Ocean City Planning Board, which approved an updated Master Plan on Oct. 17.
The Master Plan serves as a guideline for zoning and land-use decisions, but only City Council can change zoning ordinances.
Other rezoning recommendations from the Master Plan will be considered at future meetings.