Ocean City Historic Commission OKs Condo Project

Ocean City Historic Commission OKs Condo Project

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The project at 801 Wesley Ave. blends old with new in the mixed-use building in the Historic District. (Rendering courtesy of Raj Khatiwala)

By MADDY VITALE

The Ocean City Historic Preservation Commission approved an upscale condominium project with a commercial component Tuesday night.

It took revisions to get to the point that the commission would vote in favor of the project. But still, not everyone was pleased with the mixed-use building planned at 801 Wesley Ave.

Opponents and proponents filled City Hall chambers for the meeting.

Some homeowners in the Historic District said during the public comment period that the changes satisfied them, while others remarked that there were still revisions that should be made and that the project looks too “modern.”

The three-story project, called “The Wesley,” was initially voted down at a May 17 commission meeting. At that time, commission members gave their thoughts on what they did not like about the project and how it could be improved.

Property owner and Ocean City resident Raj Khatiwala responded to the concerns of the public and the commission and he and his architect, William McLees worked on revising the plan.

“I think the new design overall is more traditional and incorporates the materials that can be found in the Historic District,” McLees said during his presentation to the commission Tuesday night.

The project consists of four condos, each about 4,000 square feet. Each condo will have four parking spaces. There will also be a roughly 3,000-square-foot space for commercial use, such as a restaurant.

After the meeting, Khatiwala said, “We are excited for the opportunity to help contribute to the Historic District.”

This is the revised project, although there will be some additional changes.

Some of the changes made to the design included creating a pitched roof with composite slate rather than a flat roof. There are awnings on the ground floor level as well as landscaping.

In addition, traditional brackets, a brick facade and new spindles were among other alterations requested and then incorporated into the project.

Richard Barth, a resident in the Historic District and the administrator of the Facebook page, “Ocean City Old Home Lovers,” urged residents to attend the Tuesday meeting.

He, along with about 30 other residents, attended the meeting.

“People came out tonight,” Barth said, adding that it was on his urging.

He noted that it took a lot of effort on the part of the homeowners to ask for changes to the project to more accurately reflect the properties in the Historic District.

“It took us three times to get to this effort today,” Barth said of the revisions to the plan. “As you think about the next 25 years, every new construction could add to or render it useless. We are not going to go away.”

Susan Matthews, a commission member, did not vote since she lives at 815 Wesley Ave. She has been outspoken about her concerns about the project.

On Tuesday night, Matthews told the commission from the podium that she was pleased with many of the changes, but hopes that there will be other revisions considered.

“You have made improvements. But it seems like a lot of mixed styles,” she said of the different architecture. “That is not the way traditional homes are. They don’t have so much going on. The limestone screams modern to me. There is a mixture of materials. I don’t think blends with our Historical District.”

McLees jotted down her suggestions and said that he would review them. Some concerns included the glass door on the first floor for the commercial space. Matthews requested a more traditional look. She also spoke about the windows.

Historic District homeowner Richard Barth addresses the commission members.

Khatiwala agreed to make changes needed to further along the project.

Commission Vice Chairman Ken Cooper agreed with the other members that Khatiwala was amenable to work with on all of the recommended changes to the initial plan.

“I think everyone has come a long way,” Cooper said.

When voting yes for the project, Commissioner Richard Williams said that the changes were made and that was in part because the commission fulfilled the role of improving a project.

In July, commission members and Khatiwala, along with McLees met for an informational session.

John Loeper, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said when casting his vote in the affirmative for the project that the informal meeting helped.

“This goes to show there should be an approach for a subcommittee to iron things out,” he said of the informational meeting last month.

The existing building at 801 Wesley Ave. is in the city’s Central Business Zone. The condo project complies with the zoning.

The property was most recently Still Waters Stress Center. For decades, beginning in the 1960s, it was Knight’s Pharmacy, owned and operated by the late Mayor Henry “Bud” Knight.

Prior to that, the corner of Eighth Street and Wesley Avenue was the site of a hotel that went through several name changes over the years. At one point it was the Wesley Arms Hotel before the building was demolished.

The Historic District stretches between Third and Eighth streets and Central and Ocean avenues. Homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries line the streets.

The district is governed by ordinances designed to preserve the character of the neighborhoods near the Ocean City Tabernacle, where Ocean City was founded and first settled.

Owner Raj Khatiwala, green shirt, with his brother, Yogi, listen to the speakers at the May 17 commission meeting.