OCEAN CITY – It’s been a rocky process, but Ocean City Council took another step forward in securing a former car dealership lot, which the city plans to save from development and turn into open public space.
At a meeting Feb. 27, council approved three bond ordinances on second reading, totaling $11.9 million, which will be used to acquire the property, but not before a squabble during the hearing.
“Council has been subject to a virtual harangue on numerous occasions from of one or more members of the public,” said Dorothy McCrosson, the city solicitor, while introducing the first and largest of the three bond ordinances. “I’m happy to defend the process that we went through to get to this bond ordinance now.”
David Breeden, president of Fairness in Taxes (FIT), a watchdog organization, felt those remarks were directed at him.
“That’s not ‘haranguing,’ but I’ll show you what ‘haranguing’ is if you’re going to accuse me of it,” he said.
Breeden spoke from the podium four separate times, during comment periods and hearings for bond ordinances, through the course of the meeting.
“I take offense that we’re ‘haranguing’ you,” Breeden said. “We ‘harangue’ you. We bother you. I apologize that the taxpayers are concerned about the tax dollars…I take offense that somehow we’re bothering you in exercising our rights.”
“I happen to like the word ‘harangue,’” said Councilman Michael DeVlieger, reading the definition aloud from his phone. “A long pompous speech, especially one delivered before a gathering; or a speech or a piece of writing characterized by strong feeling or expression. A tirade.”
Breeden responded, “I can take that in a positive or negative light.”
“I was reading the definition. I wasn’t calling anybody anything,” the councilman said.
The land – one square block, between Simpson and Haven avenues and 16th and 17th streets – is owned mostly by Klause Enterprises, which planned to develop houses. Klause hasn’t agreed on a price to sell the property. The lot sits between the community center and a city athletic field.
FIT successfully petitioned a referendum on a previous bond ordinance, passed in 2018, to fund the purchase at a higher price. FIT said they supported the purchase but not the price. They claim their action saved the city $2.5 million and got them more land and resulted in showroom demolition costs being paid by the current owner.
McCrosson said that zoning changes to the property within the last two years limited the number of units that could be built on the lots is what decreased the appraised value.
“On the one hand, yes, FIT’s action by exercising their right to collect signatures on a petition turns out to be a good thing. FIT’s indictment of city council and the administration because of the prior process is just unsupported by the facts,” said McCrosson.
The city will use eminent domain to acquire the lots if it can’t reach an agreement with Klause and the other owners. While Breeden said he’s frustrated at the lack of results from years of negotiations, DeVlieger understands there’s more than one perspective on the property’s value.
“God ain’t making any more land here on the island, and it’s scarcity that makes something worth something or makes the value go up,” Devlieger said. “You can’t show me any other blocks on the island that are for sale, that I know of, that are sitting, positioned between the other public lands owned by this city, so to think they had a pretty unique product there that isn’t comparable to other blocks on the island, I would say that is fair to say as well.”
“The reason why real estate deals take time is because two people don’t agree. You can’t force somebody to agree,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said. “I can’t be more direct than that, when two people don’t agree on something…things get drug out. That’s what happens.”
If the city uses eminent domain to acquire the lots, it will pay the owner fair market value, which can be argued in court.
“For the city to take ownership the funds must be in place, so this is the last step before that,” McCrosson said.
“We’re just getting started,” said Hartzell. “Time will tell.”
To contact Shay Roddy, email email@example.com.
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