Ocean City Today

Council overrules planning board

Game World owner granted relief from several points required by commission
By Greg Ellison | Mar 01, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Nolen Graves, left, who operates Game World and Buccaneer’s Booty Mini Golf on 146th Street, along with Zoning Administrator Frank Hall and attorney Reagan Smith, respond to questions during a site plan review for a proposed expansion during the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last Wednesday.

(March 2, 2018) Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission members voiced their displeasure during their discussion last Wednesday of a site plan approval for an expansion at Game World and Buccaneer’s Booty Mini Golf.

What annoyed them, apparently, was that points they approved in an amended conditional use permit were later rescinded by the City Council. Nevertheless, the commission voted 4-0 to approve site plans for a three-phased project to expand the 146th Street business be, with Chairwoman Pam Buckley and member Lauren Taylor abstaining. Member Palmer Gillis was absent.

During the previous evening’s City Council meeting, applicant Nolen Graves sought and was granted relief from several points the Planning Commission had required when it agreed to an amended conditional use permit in January.

Among the requirements the council waived was one calling for adult supervision on the premises as well as restrictions on flashing lights and amplified sounds outside. The council also agreed to allow Graves to construct parking as required during a multi-phase construction process, rather than providing it all before the project was finished.

Buckley asked Zoning Administrator Frank Hall if the council understood it was approving an addition to a previous conditional use permit.

“Now they’re changing the rules of our previous conditional use?” she asked.

Hall confirmed that was the case.

“These projects had been approved but not constructed, so I wanted those conditions to carry forward to remind everybody what conditions were put on in the past,” he said.

In addition to expanding the existing structures west towards Sinepuxent Avenue, the plans include constructing a new building to house an additional 18-hole mini golf course and an additional parking lot south of 145th Street.

The removal of a requirement for each building to have a supervisor at least 21 years old was of particular concern to Buckley.

“I think that’s a health, safety and welfare issue,” she said. “I’m extremely disappointed that was requested.”

Commission member Peck Miller questioned the removal of a prohibition on outdoor sounds and lights, and member Joe Wilson said the council had mentioned earlier that changes in the regulation of lighting and noise negated the need for the restriction.

Buckley said that holds true for typical zoning districts, but not for instances which are permitted under special conditions, such as the Game World location, which borders a residential zone.

“It’s already deemed there should be conditions or it wouldn’t be called a conditional use,” she said. “It’s nothing different than what we’ve done in the past and Mr. Graves has operated under.”

Graves’ attorney, Regan Smith said the changes came up during council discussion after his client requested clarification over parking requirements.

“So you didn’t ask for any of these?” Buckley asked.

Later during the lengthy discussion, Buckley read aloud from a letter Smith had sent to the Hall requesting clarification on the supervisor age requirement, as well as lighting and sound restrictions.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I know we’ve required adult supervision,” she said.

While acknowledging authoring the letter, Smith said the intent was to avoid a return trip to the Planning Commission regarding crosswalk placement and phased-in parking.

“Most of the discussion came from them not from us,” he said.

After reading the letter, Buckley said the intent to circumvent the supervisory age appears evident.

“That’s not a clarification, that was very obvious in our conditions,” she said. “There was no need for clarification there, you were asking for it to be rescinded. Just clarifying as you say.”

Graves said he never indicated there was an issue with adult supervisors but questioned dictating an age minimum.

“You’re putting an age limit on this that I don’t think is appropriate,” he said.

Admitting a concession could likely have been reached, Buckley asked why the age issue wasn’t raised during the public hearing in January.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “We try to come up with the best product we can and it hurts my feelings that then you slip things in later.”

Refuting her claim, Graves said the age topic had been raised.

Miller said the question of enforcement misses the larger point.

“If we put in there that you need to have an adult at each location and there’s a complaint or a problem, [if] you didn’t have the adult, you’re shut down … because you violated the condition of your permit,” he said. “Also we need guidelines for potential future operators, because it’s not specific to you but to the property.”

Earlier in the discussion, Buckley told Smith the commission had been unaware that project was planned in phases and asked for an explanation.

Smith said ordering sufficient steel to do the entire project in time for summer turned out to be infeasible, so the decision was made to build the project in stages.

Pressed for further details regarding the need to phase in construction, Graves said while it might be economically feasible to build out a roughly 7,000 square-foot arcade expansion, filling the new space with games could cost more than a million dollars.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be realistic after building the building,” he said. “That’s why we need to phase it in.”

Graves said sufficient parking would be built to meet the requirements for each stage of construction.

Miller expressed concerns the council amended the project despite potential community impact.

“We put things in place that we thought were very pertinent to that location and they’re there for a reason,” he said.

Taylor also asked why the changes were not presented to the commission during the public hearing in January.

“All of a sudden the world has changed and the project has changed,” she said.

Miller also said the letter Smith sent to Hall should have been directed to the Planning Commission.

Smith pointed out conditional use agreements are made between the applicant and the mayor and City Council.

“With all due respect, you guys have done a great job … but that’s their right to make changes if they want to,” he said. “I certainly didn’t mean to offend you all this way.”

Buckley concurred with the legal opinion, while noting bruised egos were not the issue.

“That’s very true and we have right to make our opinion heard when it comes to safety,” she said.

“Forget the offense to me, it’s the offense to the public. I’m only here to protect them.”

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