Ocean City Today

Alibi Room student housing project approved

Resort commission green lights five-story structure with room for 75 workers
By Katie Tabeling | Sep 21, 2017
Source: Youtube.com Rendering of the renovated Alibi Room on the corner of Wicomico Street and Baltimore Avenue.

(Sept. 22, 2017) Another large student worker housing project has been approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in the hopes of quelling Ocean City’s overcrowded housing issues when international students arrive in the summer.

After an hour-long discussion this week, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans to convert the Alibi Room, a 3,202-square-foot restaurant and bar on Wicomico Street, to include 12 rooms that would house 75 workers.

Alibi Room owner Shannon Tippett plans to demolish the restaurant and build a five-story structure. The first floor would be the restaurant, while the next three floors would be dormitory-style rooms.

Each floor would have a common space and a kitchen and four bedrooms.

“This is a sharp contrast to other employee housing projects seen here … there is significant common space areas, windows, balconies and extra space for recreation,” said Zoning Analyst Frank Hall. “The top floor would be a manager apartment, and it would be nice to have a manager on-site for these situations.”

Tippett employees 25 workers at Mug and Mallet, another 25 at the Alibi Room and plans to use the remaining space to help others in need. Tippett and her husband would stay on the fifth floor to supervise her residents and employees.

Tippett said she planned the project with the housing shortage for J-1 visa students in mind. The Board of Zoning appeals granted a variance that would keep the current amount of parking rather than require Tippett find space for an additional 12 spaces. A large bike rack would be installed on the property.

“It’s more for J-1s because we’re not providing for parking,” she said. “But if there’s people that need a place to stay while they work, I wouldn’t turn them away. I’m not that kind of person.”

“We believe this is going to be a poster child for employee housing,” said Joe Moore, Tippett’s attorney.

Other commissioners saw the project from a different point of view. Commission member Palmer Gillis pointed out that the site plan includes a gas furnace that would allow for year-round housing and the manager apartment could easily accommodate 17 people.

“You could easily take plywood and add another 17 occupants. How are you enforcing this?” Gillis asked.

City officials pointed out that Chief Building Inspector Kevin Brown would have the authority to inspect the property for any suspected violations. There was another seasonal building inspector on staff this summer and Hall assured the commission that position would return next summer.

The Planning and Zoning Commission floated the idea of having dates of operation made as a condition of approval, but the Alibi Room is a year-round business. Chairwoman Pam Buckley said that as long as the units were used for their intended purpose, she saw no reason to impose regulations to require the house to operate from May 1 to Oct. 1.

“We’ve seen several applications that surprised us with how they’re designed, and our concern is health, safety and welfare of the public,” she said. “I have an issue with 75 kids in one spot. We’re working through our process of student housing because it’s profitable and possible to do this.”

“It’s not profitable,” Tippett said.  “I wouldn’t be taking on this project at all if I didn’t personally feel some sort of responsibility for the kids that work for me. I’m tired of putting them in substandard living conditions. This is my way of taking care of them.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan but on the condition that property be used for employee housing and the fifth-floor apartment be used for an on-site manager. Another condition of approval was that more than 50 percent of the residents had to be employed by the proprietor’s business.

“We’re looking long-term,” Commission member Joel Brous told Tippett. “If you sell it, who’s to say what happens and who they’re going to rent it out to?”

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