By MADDY VITALE
There’s a restaurant tucked in the sands on the north end of Ocean City that offers visitors good food and great views. Over the years, the building, which is believed to be from the 1940s, has been different eateries, yet has basically looked the same.
The most recent owner of the property at 9 Beach Road is Robert Himmelstein. He leases the building to Robert Idell, a restauranteur in town who opened it as Sand House Kitchen in June of 2021.
Before that, for several years, Angelo DiBartolo and Jim Aller leased the building from Vince Hubach and operated it as North End Grill.
Himmelstein, who owns a vacation home in Ocean City, and owns Surfside Casual Furniture in Somers Point, purchased the property in 2020 and had big hopes.
He wanted to build a new restaurant or elevate the existing structure approximately eight feet above base flood levels. Now, he is seeking city approval to raise the building, after strong opposition by the neighborhood to a new restaurant, he said in an interview Tuesday.
The matter goes before the Zoning Board on Feb. 15.
“What happened was, I reached out to the city and the neighborhood and I gave them an option,” Himmelstein explained.
He hired Somers Point-based architect William McLees to design a new restaurant.
“I took the temperature of the neighborhood. I knocked on doors. I showed everyone the plan for a new restaurant or the other option of raising the building,” he said. “I asked them what they would prefer, and they said they wanted nothing.”
Since his hopes of gaining positive feedback from the residents in the area were dashed, he went ahead with Plan B and asked the city’s Zoning Office for consideration to elevate the building under Superstorm Sandy’s law allowing property owners to raise their structures above base flood levels.
Again, Himmelstein faced opposition, only this time it was from the city’s Assistant Zoning Officer Jessica Fenton, who denied the application to raise the building, he said.
Fenton noted in her decision in city documents that there cannot be an expansion of a property that is already considered a nonconforming use and elevation would be considered an expansion.
“Based on post-Superstorm Sandy law, property owners can raise their properties above base flood levels,” he said. “She denied our application to do what the Sandy law allows us to do. The city has delayed us for a long, long time. Basically, they have delayed our application for a year. We are appealing her decision and if the board agrees, then we will not have to have a hearing.”
If not, he said he may file a lawsuit because he believes that under the law, he has the right to raise the building.
“I feel like I am a custodian to a small, special and unique property,” Himmelstein said. “We are fortunate and lucky to have the Idell family doing a great job in Ocean City.”
He continued, “It is a good restaurant and I am worried about the building being washed away. I have seen water come over the dune. They did a beach replenishment (project) there and already I see the sand washing away.”