Duplexes approved for commercial lot on Haven Ave.

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OCEAN CITY — In sharp contrast to how the issue has played out the past few years, the planning board unanimously approved a major subdivision at the corner of 13th Street and Haven Avenue with little fanfare at a March 7 meeting.

The “by right” subdivision did not require a variance. Four new duplex lots were created, one 50-by 115-foot lot on the corner and three 40-by-115 lots on the interior.

With the plan approved, the much maligned, long abandoned plumbing supply warehouse will soon be demolished, putting the controversial zoning issue to rest. No one from the public spoke for or against the proposed subdivision.

Last year, City Council approved an ordinance to rezone the 1300 block of Haven from commercial use to residential multi-family, to more accurately reflect the long stretch of duplexes that had been built with the use of variances over the past decade.

The biggest bone of contention was the old plumbing supply warehouse that sat on the corner, on a 170-by-115 foot lot. Neighbors complained that the dilapidated building was both an eyesore and a safety hazard. Zoned for commercial use in a struggling economy, the lot was nearly impossible to sell as investors steered away from commercial development.

Located near the city bike path, neighbors said the corner should be re-zoned to encourage development. In addition, each of the duplex owners struggled to refinance mortgages, among other issues, because they were in a non-conforming zone.

So they banded together to ask council to “make them whole” by rezoning the entire block, alleviating their own suffering and enabling the owners of the decaying plumbing supply building to locate a buyer.

Property owners within the newly created duplex zone cheered the move, but some on the outside bemoaned the fact that council had created four new duplex lots in a city that already boasts an abundance of the same.

The situation came to a boil, riling up even a few planning board members, including former Chairwoman Sally Jo Deluca, who publicly chastised council for not allowing the issue to come to the planning board through the master plan process. To complete the process to allow the aging building to disappear, the planning board had to approve a subdivision for the large lot.

Everyone seemed relieved when it was over.

“All the lots are fully conforming, all requirements have been met,” said city planner Randy Scheule, giving the proposal his blessing.

The plan will move forward without one requirement: a “bump out” on the southwest corner, designed as a “traffic calming measure” to make it safer for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

“It’s not a good idea,” said architect Terry Thomas, citing bicycle and traffic issues.

New development in the area requires such bump outs, but since only one corner is in question, to bump out one corner but not others, in the area, he said, would confuse drivers and bicyclists.

Planning board members agreed that the issue should be tackled along a long stretch of Haven, to be done all at once, or one block at a time, rather than piecemeal. One corner, they decided, could be a huge safety hazard.

Board Chairman John Loeper said he was happy to see the process, which began in July 2010 come to an end.

“The neighborhood was made whole,” he said. “Everyone wants to see that building come down, and see something nice on that lot.”

The plumbing supply business, he noted, long predated the stretch of duplexes that were built over a decade ago. The area was at one time dotted with commercial use.

When developers proposed a new project in the late 1990s it was welcomed.

“I’m very proud of that, it created a nice family neighborhood,” he said. “The variances were granted at that time because the developers proposed a plan that was really justified; nice, low-cost duplexes that became a year-round neighborhood. It came out beautiful. The owners take good care of the buildings; it was a good idea and improved the neighborhood dramatically.

“The only problem was that all of those duplexes were non-conforming,” he said. “Now it ends, we have made everyone whole. The plumbing supply warehouse will come down after the 45-day waiting period for appeals is over, and that’s a good thing.”

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