SOMERS POINT — A resurgence of sorts is afoot in the southern end of Bay Avenue, with the owner of one long-stalled restaurant about to propose a new, smaller concept and another changing themes.
The owner of the now-vacant lot — the former home of longtime bait-and-tackle shop Dolfin Dock — at 924 Bay Ave. is heading back to the Planning Board to seek approval for a smaller restaurant with fewer seats.
A 281-seat restaurant, including a 120-seat banquet hall, received approval from the Planning Board on June 15, 2016, but a lawsuit over parking deficit has stalled the plans. The initial plan faced heavy opposition from neighborhood residents because of its parking shortage and was altered before final approval.
Attorney Jack Plackter, who represents 924 Bay Avenue LLC owner Gene Mitchell, said the lawsuit is still pending before an appellate judge.
In the meantime his client is moving forward with a plan for a scaled-back restaurant on the site, Plackter said, adding that the plan is to construct a restaurant using shipping containers — either as a permanent solution or temporarily. His client filed an application Monday but it was not official because it had not been paid for, according to Planning Board Secretary Jayne Meischker. She said it likely would be on the agenda for June.
“We will wait to see what happens in court and pursue this in the interim,” Plackter said Friday, adding that he thinks neighbors should embrace the idea because all parking would be on site.
At the time of approval, Plackter said 94 parking spaces were required for a facility with 281 seats and that the proposal included 41 parking spaces on-site. The plan was 53 parking spots short of the requirement.
Despite the parking shortage and neighborhood opposition, the board approved the application 6-1, with Mayor Jack Glasser casting the lone dissenting vote, saying there were many concerns when the application first went before the board and he did not feel the concerns were “totally met.”
“I saw cutting down of seats, but I didn’t see a big property that was being put on Bay Avenue being shrunk down,” Glasser said at the time.
He also said the parking was not addressed to his liking and he did not agree with granting variances for the lot coverage or the front yard setback.
Next door, the former Baia Restaurant, whose location is one of the longtime anchors of the Bay Avenue entertainment district, will be transformed into a beach bar if everything goes according to plan.
According to Greg Sykora, chairman of the city’s Economic Development Advisory Commission, Baia property owner Gary Holloway Jr. of Ocean City hopes to seek relief from a city ordinance banning food trucks in order to accomplish his goal.
Sykora said the plan is to complete removal of the former restaurant — which was known as The Waterfront in the 1980s and 1990s under the ownership of Harris Berman and then Jay Lamont — then add a tiki bar, seating, sand, palm trees and portable bathrooms at the site on Great Egg Harbor Bay near the Route 52 causeway to Ocean City. Outside vendors would provide food.
Demolition crews began knocking down the building at 998 Bay Ave. on April 11.
Sykora said Holloway’s company, GMH Restaurant Holdings LLC, is preparing to submit an application to the Planning Board.
Holloway did not return calls seeking comment, but his lawyer confirmed a plan is in the making.
“They are working with the city to reopen with a different theme,” Joe Mascione said.
Meischker said no application had been submitted for the Baia site as of Monday, April 29.
The city’s entertainment district along Bay Avenue and partially along Shore Road includes multiple restaurants and bars such as The Anchorage Tavern, Gregory’s Restaurant and Bar, Charlie’s Bar and Restaurant, Josie Kelly’s Public House, Smitty’s Clam Bar, The Doc’s Place, Caroline’s and others.
Sykora said having one of the mainstays inoperable, particularly at one end of the district, would harm the city economically.
“We had a building on that property that was a usable, viable building. We lost a good ratable and hopefully we can work with the owners to put something there that everybody can be proud of,” Sykora said.
Reached for comment, Glasser, who sits on the Planning Board, said he knew nothing of plans for the Baia site.
“I heard they had a permit to demolish and they started to demolish but don’t know anything beyond that,” Glasser said Thursday, April 25.