By MADDY VITALE
Sand House Kitchen is moving. Not to a new location – but up. The iconic Ocean City beachfront restaurant is being lifted.
The restaurant, which has operated under different names over the years, occupies a building that dates back to the 1940s. It is located on the beach at 9 Beach Road. It is believed to be the only restaurant like it the resort.
Robert Himmelstein, owner of the building since 2020, leases the property to Robert Idell, a restaurateur in town who opened it as the Sand House Kitchen in June of 2021.
On Thursday, workers from Innovative Contractors out of Ocean City began to level the ground and work to raise the building.
Himmelstein said that the plan is to have the building lifted by April 1.
When completed, the building will be raised 6.1 feet higher on the street side and 7.8 feet higher on the beach side.
“I am really happy that the lift is in progress,” he said, noting that Innovative Contractors is doing a great job.
Himmelstein walked around the building, looking underneath at the joists and the overall condition of the beams holding the building up.
“The existing pilings were totally rotted and if there had been a bad storm the building would not have been able to withstand any bad storm surge,” he said. “There’s nothing even left of the steel beams. This was totally necessary to preserve the structure. If there’s any type of storm surge, it would come apart.”
Although the building is being lifted now, Himmelstein has had plenty of obstacles in the way of his plans.
He was initially denied approval by the city’s zoning office for a permit to elevate the property. But after appealing, he received the green light from the Ocean City Zoning Board on Dec. 11 to raise it for protection against coastal storms.
But even though he received approval, he has another hurdle.
Not everyone feels the same way about the beachfront eatery as Himmelstein or the customers do.
After he received Zoning Board approval, 17 neighbors hired a lawyer to appeal the decision. The Zoning Board heard the appeal on Oct. 25 and denied it, Himmelstein said.
On Thursday, Himmelstein was served with another lawsuit by neighbors challenging the Zoning Board’s decision.
“Today, I was served with a lawsuit from 10 neighbors in seven homes. Previously, 17 neighbors had been represented by the same lawyer led by George Stevenson,” Himmelstein said. “The good news is seven neighbors have dropped out.”
The neighbors in the lawsuit want to see the Zoning Board’s decision reversed and restrain the use of the property “in violation of zoning laws.”
Himmelstein said that the neighbors are claiming that there are no documents that establish zoning rights beyond a refreshment stand. He said that in 1945 a building permit was granted for the owner of the property to rebuild a refreshment stand that existed before a hurricane destroyed it in the summer of 1944.
However, Himmelstein said that the Sandy law, which was approved by the state after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, allows owners to be able to raise their property.
“I guess they are trying to say the property should be nothing other than a refreshment stand,” he said of the neighbors who filed suit.
Stevenson, whose two-story home is directly across the street from the Sand House Kitchen, would likely be most affected by what will soon be a much taller restaurant.
Stevenson said that he was not sure how tall the building was going to be once it is elevated, but declined further comment.
From his porch, there are ocean views that may be obstructed when the restaurant is elevated.
Himmelstein said he hopes that things could be worked out with the neighbors. He has asked neighbors to go to eat breakfast and talk about things, but has been unsuccessful in his attempts. One neighbor said that the only thing she would like to see in that spot is “nothing,” Himmelstein said.
He noted that there are some things he would like to work out before the restaurant opens for the summer.
“I am disappointed that we do not have handicap accessibility to the beach. The zoning officer had us remove the handicap ramp to the beach,” Himmelstein said, adding that there is a ramp to utilize to get in and out of the restaurant. “The zoning officer had us also remove the stairs from the street side.”
At some point, he said, “it will need to be addressed with the city.”
Before Himmelstein purchased the property, it was leased to Angelo DiBartolo and Jim Aller and operated as North End Beach Grill for many years under the former owner, Vince Hubach. In the 1970s, the restaurant was known as Richard’s.