BERLIN — Nearly six years after the building was slated to be turned into a La Hacianda and almost three since that restaurant gave up on the project, eventually moving to Ocean Pines, the issue of the former Neon Moon building has begun to come to a head.
For the second time in six-months a resident came to the Berlin Mayor and Council meeting to complain about the building’s condition. Last fall, a petitioner asked that the overgrowth around the dilapidated building be trimmed back for both traffic safety and neighborhood aesthetic reasons. This week, another came to flat out ask the Council to have the building demolished.
When Bill Herbst, who owns both the Ocean City and the Ocean Pines La Hacienda but is no longer involved in the project, was attempting to open a restaurant on the property, he ran into resistance getting the site plan approved by the Town. At issue was the Town’s comprehensive plan provision that banned parking in front of the building.
Herbst requested a variance that would have granted him parking in front of the proposed building. The Town’s site plan review guidelines in the zoning code stipulate that parking be behind the building whenever practical.
Although the Town did begin negotiations to see about rectifying the parking issue — there was at one point a plan that would have allowed limited parking in front of the building — the Maryland State Highway Administration stepped in with some concerns of their own.
According to the SHA, the proposed building’s relationship to the power lines and some line of sight issues made the plan for the building’s placement, in their view, unacceptable.
The corner property is structured in such a way that it’s already difficult to see southbound traffic when crossing Main Street eastbound. Eventually Herbst walked away from the project in frustration.
Over the ensuing years the ownership has been responsive to Town requests for abatement of nuisances. But as time passes, the need for more intensive maintenance continues to pile up and the building has become something of an eyesore at one of the Town’s major gateways.
The gateway argument was one of many made by Susan Moore, the latest petitioner, when she addressed the Mayor and Council this week.
“I think it’s a very bed introductory building to see,” she said.
Moreover, new, tougher rules for nuisance abatement have been passed in the last year, making it more difficult and more expensive to let a building fall into total and utter disrepair for extended periods of time.
Included in the new rules is the ability for the Town to fine negligent property owners $200 per day per infraction until the nuisance is abated.
According to Town Planning and Zoning Supervisor Chuck Ward, the Neon Moon building was cited last month for six separate violations, each carrying a $100 fine. Should the violations remain unaddressed the Town may begin the $200 per day fines. The letter addressing that possibility went to the owner, Scott Steel, last week.
Should the fines go unpaid and the work remain undone, the Town could then take Steel to District Court.
Only after the court has rendered a decision can the Town move to have the building demolished.
“Ultimately, we could have it demolished,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “The clock started ticking last week.”
He added that it hopefully won’t come to that.
Berlin Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day, said there has been recurring interest in the building by people hoping to open business in Berlin. Although there haven’t been any takers, Day was hopeful that someone could reach an agreement to purchase the property which would likely solve the problem for everyone involved.
With the recent move by Twisters to take over part of the Tyson property on Old Ocean City Road and the continued success of Burley Oak Brewery farther on down the block, it is likely that the area may be experience a resurgence of interest for would-be entrepreneurs.
Steel declined comment on the ramifications of the fines or the progress of the building’s sale.