Stalled Property Negotiation Slows New Boat Ramp Process; Landowner: ‘This Is Terribly Unfair’
OCEAN CITY – The town has come to a stalemate with property owners over land needed to construct the new public boat ramp that has been slated to begin for the past two years.
In 2012, the Mayor and City Council voted to construct a new boat ramp and trailer parking facility at 64th Street that would consist of a two-lane boat ramp, channel dredging for ramp access, trailer parking and a small comfort station. The location of was chosen because it is surrounded by commercial or governmental uses and located close to the center of Ocean City.
The project is being funded through a partnership between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Waterway Improvement Program (DNR-WIP) and the Town of Ocean City.
It was brought forward to relieve congestion at the current city operated, single lane, public boat ramp in the residential neighborhood of Little Salisbury as well as increase access to the coastal bays and the Atlantic Ocean. Little Salisbury residents have been disturbed by the ramp in their neighborhood for years.
“The two-lane boat ramp is preferred over the simple matter of the volume of vessels we can get in and out … this boat ramp is basically going to replace the boat ramp in Little Salisbury that is very disruptive to the residents,” McGean said. “They have been begging us to build a new boat ramp and to close or restrict the one in Little Salisbury for years.”
In the summer of 2013, it became apparent the purchase of additional property would be needed to fulfill the design of a two-lane boat ramp, due to the placement of a water tank and its utilities projecting into the site.
An ordinance before the Mayor and City Council during Monday evening’s legislative meeting authorizes the Mayor and City Council to purchase, by private negotiation or by the institution of condemnation, certain real property between 64th and 65th streets needed for construction and installation of the public boat launching facility.
“There was a negotiation that occurred. There was not an agreement as the result of the negotiation. The Mayor and Council are aware of the appraised value of the property, and they have authorized further negotiation. If we are unable to reach an agreement following that negotiation, this ordinance will allow the Mayor and Council to proceed with condemnation of the property,” City Manager David Recor said.
Co-owners of the property in question, Robert Kirchiro and Matin Maghsouzadeh, came before the Mayor and City Council frustrated over the situation, claiming all communication with the legislative body has been cut off.
“Something about this is terribly unfair. My family has owned this property for more than 50 years, and I have been largely ignored by the City Council,” Kirchiro said. “We have been talking to Mr. McGean for two years, who made all kinds of representations, and we were very excited about the whole project … and now that it is happening everything we were told has been taken off of the table. I am going to make my grandfather proud of me and I am not going to roll over on this … my grandfather thought it would eventually be filled in and be used as a lot … our dreams are coming true now it is being developed and my consideration after paying 53 years of taxes on this property is that I am supposed to take $8,000 and run along.”
Mayor Rick Meehan explained City Solicitor Guy Ayres is the legal representative of the Mayor and City Council.
“If you don’t want to sell and we can’t come to an agreement, which is what we have tried to do by negotiating with you through one voice rather then you getting seven different opinions up here, you are entitled to get your own appraisal of the property if you choose to do so to see what the value of the property is,” the mayor said.
Council President Lloyd Martin responded the market value of the property, which is mostly underwater, has changed in the past 50 years.
“You could have filled it in 50 years ago and have something there but with the way the wet lands are right now and the changes in the laws the value has unfortunately went from what it was 50 years ago to what it is today,” he said. “It is a waterway, and I understand you have been paying taxes on it but the best use will be a boat ramp for the public. I am hard pressed to even call it a lot. It is under water.”
Recor furthered the matter is simply a business transaction.
“It is a negotiation. It is no more complicated than that,” he said. “The value of the property has been established and you have a willing buyer. The market price is based on what the property appraises at, not a dream.”
Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out the passage of the ordinance on first reading does not preclude the town from further negotiations.
“Basically all this does is allows the negotiation to go on until we reach an impasse and it gives the council the right at that point in time to start the condemnation process,” he said. “I truly believe it would behoove you to seek legal counsel on this … I am sure this is a very emotional issue for you, sir, and I understand that but it is a business deal.
Ayres has been in negotiations with the party for the last month. Previously, McGean had attempted negotiations for over a year.
According to Ayres, when the offer was made based on the property’s appraised value, it was declined and counteroffered with four options.
“Two of the suggestions Terry McGean has been advised the Army Corp of Engineers nor DNR would grant the permits for. The other two were long-term rentals with a purchase price and both of those proposals were unacceptable to the council. In all fairness, in my opinion, they were grossly disproportionate to both the assessed value made by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation and the appraised value of the property,” Ayres said. “I am more than happy to sit down with them again but at this point I think both parties are so far apart that I don’t have any reason to believe that we will successfully come to an agreement.”
Councilman Brent Ashley made a motion to table the ordinance for two weeks to allow additional time for negotiations. The council voted 4-3 to approve with Council members Dennis Dare, Mary Knight and Mitrecic opposed.
On Wednesday, McGean said, although there has been discussion over wants, every formal offer made was written and documented.
“They are a little bit of a challenge to deal with. They had a consultant come talk to me, and he was communicating back to them but they claim that never happened, so it is rather a strange story. We let it drop hoping we could do the ramp without the property once we got the engineer on board, but we realized we needed the property, so we re-opened discussions with them about acquiring it, and that is when I had the appraisal done,” McGean said. “I had offered on numerous occasions to pay for them to have their own appraisal done by a company of their choice and they declined to do that. They disagree with the appraisal that the town has, and they have refused to provide one of their own.”
According to McGean, if the council elects to not precede with condemnation or acquire the property either the boat ramp will not be constructed, or the town can attempt to construct a single-lane ramp, which will risk the loss of the partnership with DNR.
Once the property is acquired, it will be six to nine months to receive all permits and another nine months to year to construct the ramp and complete dredging.