By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Sept. 6, 2018) Waterfront lot owners in Ocean Pines could see a significant assessment increase if future bulkhead repair bid requests do not include the swim and racquet club park area as a staging ground, as has been the practice for more than a decade.
Several homeowners, citing safety, environmental and property value concerns associated with construction materials left at the site, said during a work session on Saturday that’s a price they’re willing to pay.
Materials left unsupervised at the site during recent months have included barges, heavy construction vehicles, large stacks of bulkhead materials and several dumpsters.
Director Frank Daly said board members toured the site during an orientation meeting a week earlier and were told moving the staging area could increase costs as much as 25 percent each year.
“We are basically looking at a $25 million bulkhead program over the life of the program … that will increase the cost by $6.25 million,” Daly said, adding the average annual increase for 1,389 waterfront lots could be $180 per year.
“Yes, we want balance. Yes, we would like to have it off. And, no, we don’t know how 1,389 people would react offhand to $180 increase in their assessment, coming right out of the box. Those are just parameters that we have to deal with in making the decision,” Daly added.
Homeowner Lewis Frey, who for months has led efforts to remove the construction materials, said he knew the board faced a difficult decision.
Frey invoked previous comments by General Manager John Bailey in the spring quarterly news report.
“He said, ‘Let the conversations not be about us versus them, rather than let them be about we.’ And I think that’s what we have to do — we have to have a united front here,” Frey said. “And do we, the board of directors, general manager [and] the residents of Ocean Pines, agree that the equipment and the materials should be removed from the swim and racquet club, and not situated anywhere in Ocean Pines? If we can all agree on that, then we can find a solution.”
Bulkhead repairs, Frey said, were something Ocean Pines would always have to deal with.
“Whatever decision you make — it’s going to be forever and that’s, I think, very important,” he said. “The other thing is, we’re not going away — we are not going to leave this alone until it’s gone from there.”
He also said there is a level of distrust, because residents were told several years ago the materials would be removed and never return, but, “here we are again.”
Frey held up a petition he said included 300 homeowner signatures to back up a resolution passed by 100 lot owners during the August annual meeting.
The motion, proposed by Donna Lebo, requested “that the board consider alternate staging grounds for bulkhead repair and maintenance, and return the swim and racquet club park back to its originally intended use as a park and recreational area for the use and enjoyment of the residents who live here, and for public use.”
“There is support — a lot of support out there,” Frey said. “I could probably go and double that number [on the petition] if I had another couple of weeks.
“We’re dedicated to this because we believe in this,” he continued. “We don’t want to have to end up going to court on this, contacting an attorney and saying, ‘What are our rights?’ We don’t want to go that way. We want to work that out right here.”
Several times, Frey said he wanted to keep the conversation civil.
“We still have to go to the market and meet each other there, and say hello,” he said. “We still want to be friends when this is all over. So, you guys have to make the right decision.”
Joe Reynolds, a waterfront lot owner said, “the board of directors needs to move that operation out of that location.”
Reynolds added he wasn’t sure estimates of a 25 percent cost increase to move the staging area are correct.
“But, if it is, I’ll pay it,” he said. “Those people over there have been putting up with this for 20 years, perhaps, and this is not a part-time operation. This operation is in perpetuity — forever. It’s like painting the bay bridge — when you get done painting it, you start over again. It’s never going to stop.”
Bailey said bulkhead bid requests going out this month would include several different staging options, including the swim and racquet club park.
“What we want to know is, what is that differential cost?” Bailey said. “Is it 15 percent … is it 30, is it 5?
“Without asking that question, we don’t know that answer,” he added.
Homeowner Kenny Tomaselli, a professional contractor, suggested letting the bidders determine the location.
“You’re telling the bidder what’s the cheapest by putting that bid out right now,” he said.
Director Ted Moroney said the process was all part of being transparent and the information was necessary in order to show what the cost would be for each homeowner.
Moroney, himself a waterfront lot owner, added he would be willing to pay a higher assessment to see the materials moved.
“I would vote to pay it, but I do believe we owe all 8,452 lot owners to say, here’s what the cost is,” he said, adding, “I’m going to vote to move the thing out.”
Daly offered to propose a referendum to “not to use that park for a construction staging site.”
“But, I want you to clearly understand when I do that, that it needs a second and certain votes, and a certain number of votes from the community to get the balance that you’re asking for,” he said, adding, “I’m 100 percent for moving the construction out of that area.”
Association Vice President Steve Tuttle said it was helpful to hear the homeowner concerns during the meeting. He also proposed a different solution.
“I would like to ask, as a board, that we send out the RFP without swim and racquet as an option, because I really do believe that we will get a bid that will be inflated for every place other than swim and racquet, and it will not give us a true estimate of the cost for doing the bulkheads,” he said.
“I think the most competitive and safest way to do this would be to put out a straightforward, ‘no place in Ocean Pines’ RFP,” Tuttle added, drawing applause from the audience.
Because of the work session format, no voting occurred last Saturday.
The board is scheduled to hold a regular meeting on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. in the Assateague Room of the Community Center on 235 Ocean Parkway. A vote related to the swim and racquet club park is expected to be on the agenda.