By MADDY VITALE
Playland’s Castaway Cove stopped construction about eight weeks ago on a project to rebuild the arcade building destroyed by a 2021 fire and also to create a third-floor control room for a new roller-coaster to sit atop.
The matter had to go to the Ocean City Zoning Board for an interpretation. The board had to determine whether a height variance would be needed for the third floor or if it would be considered part of the ride and, hence, not have the height limitation.
After two months of waiting, Playland’s management got the answer they were looking for in a brief meeting Wednesday night in which the board voted unanimously that there was no height variance needed.
“The Zoning Board acted conservatively, but I believe this is an integral part of the ride and not requiring a (height) variance, which is what the board believes,” Zoning Board Solicitor Mark Stein said in summing up the unanimous vote by the members during the meeting.
Since the Jan. 30, 2021, fire, Playland’s owner, Scott Simpson, and Brian Hartley, vice president of the amusement park, discussed the return — albeit it in an updated form, thanks to advanced technology — of the iconic replica of a pirate ship that served as the main entryway attraction into Castaway Cove.
Along with Simpson and Hartley was engineer Bob Green, who helped design the original replica of a pirate ship more than 20 years ago for the popular Boardwalk amusement park at 10th Street and the Boardwalk.
Prior to the vote, the board heard testimony from both Simpson and Green.
The third floor would have about 1,074 square feet of space and would be about 46 feet above the Boardwalk. It would have a vestibule, stairs, an elevator and a roof deck.
Simpson testified that the control room was important for the roller-coaster because it would allow employees to react quickly if there was a problem with the ride. In addition, the third floor would be a self-contained building, specifically there for the roller-coaster.
“The concept of what I came up with many years ago is something I thought about for 20 to 25 years. This becomes an entity into itself,” Simpson said of what he described as a self-contained building.
After the meeting, Green said that it felt good to once again be a part of something special at Playland’s Castaway Cove.
“It is very exciting because I helped design the pirate ship 20 years ago,” Green said. “Kids loved the entrance and it will be nice to see it return.”
Hartley said he is happy that work can begin again after weeks of being at a standstill.
“I’m glad we can finally get moving again,” he noted after the hearing.
Zoning Board member Brian Logue said of the proposed roller-coaster, “It sounds like the future ride that is coming is a wow ride.”
Before the vote, the board heard from people in the audience, mostly Boardwalk merchants, who spoke highly of Playland’s Castaway Cove as a business and a good neighbor.
Harmohan Ahluwalia, a Boardwalk merchant, said he has watched Playland over the years transform from a small amusement park into a major one that it is today.
“Having Playland as a neighbor has been an amazing asset,” he said.
Ahluwalia continued, “Playland has been a terrific neighbor to so many of us on a busy Boardwalk. Mr. Simpson always asks his neighbors what they think.”
He added that “the least we can do,” especially “after the tragedy of the fire,” is to approve their plans for the future.
Former Ocean City Councilman Mike DeVlieger said Playland’s Castaway Cove is an important part of the Boardwalk and the community.
“I think that it is a reasonable variance to grant, and I think the structure is critical,” DeVlieger said, noting that it is one of the vital anchors of the Boardwalk, along with Gillian’s Wonderland Pier.
DeVlieger added that rebuilding after the fire has been so important.
“If you are going to put it back, put it back right,” he said.