By Donald Wittkowski
Prime property that is supposed to be the construction site for a controversial condo-hotel project is now up for sale for $30 million, according to a listing on a real estate website.
The proposed Soleil Resort project has languished for more than 10 years, but gained momentum in 2017 when a Superior Court judge ordered the Ocean City Planning Board to approve the development.
The developers indicated last year that they hoped to begin construction in 2018. However, no work has started on the property at 11th Street and Ocean Avenue overlooking the beach and Boardwalk.
LoopNet, a commercial real estate website, says the nearly two-acre site is on the market for $30 million. The sale listing notes that the property has been approved for 111 condos and has direct access to the Boardwalk.
“We would be looking to sell to a condo or hotel developer interested in the plan,” according to the LoopNet listing.
Select Properties Inc., of Colmar, Pa., and Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders, of Spring House, Pa., are the development partners. Select Properties is the owner of the land, which currently functions as a parking lot.
Stephen Nehmad, an attorney representing Select Properties, declined to comment Friday on the property sale. However, he did say that as far he knows, Select Properties still wants to build the condo-hotel. Nehmad added that he is in the process of securing regulatory and construction approvals for the project.
Soleil Resort received approval from the city’s Planning Board last October, a key step in the lengthy battle to finally build the complex. The board had originally rejected the project in 2016, prompting the developers to file a lawsuit seeking a court order to reverse the denial.
Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez ruled last August that the Planning Board exceeded its authority and acted in an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” manner when it denied site plan approval in April 2016 by a 7-1 vote.
Mendez ordered the board to approve the site plan application. He found that the project fully complied with the city zoning requirements for a hotel redevelopment zone where Soleil would be built.
“The project is fully approved by the Ocean City Planning Board and is consistent with the city’s redevelopment plan,” Nehmad said.
The developers have proposed a 111-unit complex that would function as a hotel. While the six-story building would remain a hotel resort, the individual units would be sold as condominiums.
During three stormy public hearings in 2016 that led up to the Planning Board’s rejection of the project, opponents claimed that the Soleil was too big for the surrounding neighborhood and would create gridlock on local streets already congested during the peak summer tourism season.
“I know there are many, many people who are opposed to the development of this project because it would take away the parking,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said in an interview Friday. “It’s too big of a project. The traffic would be awful.”
The project has also drawn intense objections from some local business owners. They contended during the Planning Board hearings that Soleil was a poorly disguised condominium complex, not the condo-hotel that the developers insist they plan to build.
In particular, the project aroused fierce public opposition from residents in the adjacent Flanders Hotel, which operates as a condo-hotel. Soleil is regarded as a potential competitor for the Flanders, one of the city’s most historic and iconic businesses.
Select Properties has sued the Flanders Condominium Association, alleging that the hotel improperly interfered with plans to develop the Soleil Resort. The litigation is pending.
Bergman, who works as director of catering at the Flanders, said any doubts she has about the Soleil project are based on concerns from her constituents.
“If this project goes up, there would be too many units, and we couldn’t handle the traffic flow,” Bergman said.
The Soleil is proposed for a city redevelopment zone that envisions a first-class, resort-style hotel operating year-round.
“It has to be a hotel,” Bergman said.
The developers have repeatedly said the project would comply with those requirements. Nehmad offered similar assurances on Friday.
“This is a 111-unit hotel that has been approved by the Ocean City Planning Board – without one variance – and is consistent with the Ocean City redevelopment plan,” he said.
Select Properties and Ernst Brothers indicated in 2017 that Soleil would be built in three stages, starting with a condo tower on Ocean Avenue, followed by a parking garage and ending with another condo tower on 11th Street.
Over the years, the project has gone through a number of changes to reflect the wishes of the Planning Board as well as the swings in the Ocean City real estate market.