first_imgPaul Chiolo, owner of the Keller Williams realty firm, tells City Council of his plans for a new office complex for his company. By Donald WittkowskiThe developer of a proposed multimillion-dollar real estate office on the site of a blighted and abandoned former gasoline station promised to create “a beautiful building” that would be a new anchor for Ocean City’s main gateway.Paul Chiolo, owner of the Keller Williams realty company, reaffirmed his intention to build the project on the Ninth Street corridor, even though City Council approved an ordinance Thursday night that gives the city the option of condemning the same piece of property.Chiolo wants to transform an old Exxon station site, a notorious eyesore at the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue, into a new headquarters for Keller Williams. The project has been discussed for months, but Chiolo provided more details Thursday.Appearing before Council, Chiolo handed out an architectural rendering of the building, giving the first public glimpse of what it would look like.He assured Council that he will build the office complex, despite the city’s competing proposal to possibly turn the site into landscaped open space that would spruce up the appearance of the Ninth Street entryway.An architectural rendering shows what the proposed Keller Williams office building at Ninth Street and Bay Avenue would look like.“Our intention is to build a beautiful building there,” he told Council.In an interview with reporters later, Chiolo said he is close to buying the property. He said the combined purchase price and construction cost would be more than $2 million.“I know our intentions are 100 percent to close very soon,” Chiolo said of his plan to finalize the deal.Chiolo has submitted an application to the city’s Planning Board, which is expected to review the project in October or November. Assuming the project is approved then, Chiolo intends to start construction in the fall and have the building ready for a grand opening next summer.However, if Chiolo’s project falls through for any reason, the city now has the option of condemning the old Exxon site through eminent domain and taking possession of the property.By a 6-0 vote, Council approved an ordinance Thursday that would allow the city to either buy or condemn the Exxon site, along with three other deteriorated properties on the Ninth Street corridor, the main artery in and out of town.Chiolo initially feared that the ordinance would kill his project, but he said he now realizes that it is simply a precautionary measure that gives the city additional legal safeguards if his project isn’t built.“It gives me a real sense of security … to move full steam ahead,” he said.The ordinance also targets the old Getty and BP gas station sites at the foot of the Ninth Street entrance, as well as an adjacent waterfront business known as Bud’s Outboard Marine Inc.Long frustrated by the negative impression the shuttered gas stations have made on visitors as they enter town, city officials want to transform the sites into landscaped open space to improve the Ninth Street corridor. The possible acquisition of Bud’s Outboard Marine would create an even bigger expanse of open space.The old Getty gas station at the corner of Ninth Street and Bay Avenue is one of the targets of an ordinance that gives the city the option of condemning blighted properties.Members of City Council stressed that they would only want to use condemnation as a last resort. They indicated they would prefer to negotiate a deal to buy the properties from the current owners.“We’re putting the ball in play, if we need to,” Councilman Antwan McClellan said of having condemnation as an option.A few Council members expressed hope that Chiolo would be successful in developing his project. They noted that the proposed real estate office would replace the decrepit former Exxon building that stands there now.“I would not be disappointed to come over the bridge and be greeted by that, either,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said of the proposed office building.The condemnation process would provide additional legal safeguards to protect the city from liability claims if it acquires the sites and contamination is discovered later, Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson explained. The onus for cleaning up the contamination would fall on the previous owners, not the city, McCrosson said.Already, the city has agreed to buy the former BP site for $475,000. The old BP building and fuel pumps were demolished in June to create empty land.In the BP deal, the owner was required to remove the old underground gasoline storage tanks before the city took possession of the property. The owner was also required to test for contamination.Although Council has agreed to buy the BP site, that property is included in the ordinance to give the city an extra layer of security from potential liability lawsuits if contamination is found in the future, McCrosson said.The Exxon site, meanwhile, is already known to be contaminated with petroleum-related chemicals in the groundwater. The contamination, which is suspected to stem from the station’s former operation, has been monitored for the last 27 years.Synergy Environmental Inc., a consulting firm overseeing the Exxon site, told surrounding property owners in a letter last month that the contamination poses no public danger and should dissipate by itself.Chiolo said he recently received a 500-page report from Synergy that concluded the Exxon site would be safe enough for Keller Williams to build its office complex there.Despite Council’s vote on the ordinance Thursday, the city appears far from actually acquiring any of the sites. It still must appraise the properties, make offers to the owners and authorize the funding to buy them.In other business Thursday, Council was told of the city’s plans to build new pickleball courts at little-used tennis courts on 18th Street next to the Ocean City Intermediate School.The city has struggled for months to come up with a compromise site that would satisfy both the pickleball and tennis communities.Michael Allegretto, the city’s director of community services, recommended building the pickleball courts at the 18th Street location. The plans call for keeping three existing courts for tennis, but using three others as combined pickleball and tennis courts.Ocean City High School star baseball player Sean Mooney, center, receives congratulations from members of City Council for compiling more wins, 26, than any other pitcher in city history.In another sports-related matter, Council honored Ocean City High School baseball player Sean Mooney, the star pitcher on the South Jersey Group III championship team.Mooney, who will continue playing baseball at St. John’s University, finished as Ocean City’s all-time winning pitcher. During his career, he compiled 26 wins, struck out 302 batters and had a 1.13 earned run average.Also Thursday, Council approved a bond ordinance that is part of the funding plan for the construction of a new fire station on 29th Street.The ordinance includes redirecting $450,000 that was originally intended to pay for new parking lots to instead help finance the new fire station.At its Aug. 11 meeting, Council awarded a $2.1 million construction contract for the fire station. The current firehouse, built in the 1950s, has been badly damaged by coastal storms in recent years and will be demolished in the fall.In another vote Thursday, Council vacated a portion of 10th Street to help with the redevelopment of the former Dan’s Dock property into a new bayside marina called the 10th Street Wharf.Under the plan, a 17-foot-wide piece of 10th Street would be vacated to allow the marina developer to properly align the docks.last_img

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