By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City has completed its “monumental” acquisition of a block of land that will be preserved as open space.
The city fought for over two years to purchase privately owned land that once served as the location for a car dealership, with the goal of preserving and protecting it from a proposed densely packed housing development.
“This is a monumental win for the Ocean City taxpayers,” Mayor Jay Gillian said Monday. “It’s an extremely rare opportunity to be able to protect that much open space. I’m looking forward to the next steps.”
With the acquisition of that parcel, a five-block area from 15th Street to 20th Street will now be dedicated to public use. It will stretch from Emil Palmer Park to the Ocean City Community Center, to the tennis and pickleball courts, to the Ocean City Intermediate School, the mayor explained.
“The short-term plans for the summer will be to clean up the property and make it look nice for the neighborhood,” Gillian said. “In the fall, the city will schedule a town hall meeting and provide other opportunities to solicit ideas from the public for long-term plans. It will remain open space, but the city would be looking for suggestions for how the area can best be used and enjoyed by all.”
The city used its power of eminent domain to seize the property from land owners Jerry and Harry Klause, of Klause Enterprises, when an agreement couldn’t be reached. The Klause brothers had wanted to build a 22-unit housing development on the site before the city stepped in to acquire the land.
In addition to the former Perry-Egan car lot, which has since been demolished, leaving a vacant tract adjacent to the Community Center, the city purchased two nearby parcels rounding out the block bordered by 16th and 17th streets between Simpson and Haven avenues.
Those two parcels were formerly controlled by Palmer Center LLC, a group owned by John Flood, a real estate developer and former city councilman.
The city had offered $3.1 million to buy the Palmer Center property at 109 16th Street. The land is currently vacant, but has been approved for housing development. In addition, the city had offered $2.5 million for more piece of Palmer Center land at 1600 Haven Avenue.
City Council approved a total $12.5 million funding package in 2020 for all of the land owned by Klause Enterprises and Palmer Center LLC.
“The final cost is still to be determined by the court, and there are issues still to be resolved. But the property is ours. I look forward to developing short and long term plans for the public to use the area,” Gillian said in a statement on March 26.
He continued, “It has been a long process, and I want to thank City Council and all of the city team members who helped make this happen. Everybody will benefit from seeing this land preserved as open space.”