By Tim O’Meilia
The fate of Ocean Ridge’s five-store business district is back in the hands of town commissioners with the town’s planning and zoning board’s advice to hire a firm to recommend a plan for the next few decades.
The board urged that the planning firm interview residents and hold workshops to determine the feelings of townspeople and the business community, including real estate professionals.
The tiny blip of a commercial district at 5011 N. Ocean Blvd., at the south entrance to town, is scheduled to be phased out by July 2014 under the extension of an agreement with the property owners, Orlando and Liliane Sivitilli.
“This is a discussion we’ve been having for years,” said Town Attorney Ken Spillias, “whether to allow a small commercial district to continue to exist.”
The 5011 property houses Colby’s Barber Shop, the Transition Area triathlon shop, The Coastal Star newspaper, Ocean Ridge Realty and an empty store. Four apartments are on the second floor. Town Commissioner Gail Adams Aaskov, who owns the real estate firm, does not vote on issues regarding the strip.
At the April 15 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, former Mayor Ken Kaleel urged the board to recommend the study. “What do we want to see in this corridor for the next 20 to 25 years?” he asked.
In general, the board members favored the idea of small, town-serving businesses that don’t generate much traffic. But commission Chairman James Bonfiglio noted that there was no great clamoring for the businesses to remain.
“I see it as a benefit to its neighbors,” said town planning consultant Marty Minor of Urban Design Kilday Studios. “It won’t have a great commercial impact.”
The 5011 property is flanked by apartments and backs up to a residential area of largely duplexes. Minor said because of the shallow depth of the parcel — only 60 feet — it would be difficult to house more than small businesses. The 10 parking spaces in front would not be attractive to a high-traffic business.
Across the street, in an unincorporated strip along A1A, are a Texaco station, a real estate office and an empty branch bank building.
The town of Briny Breezes approved a new comprehensive plan last month that would allow a mix of commercial, town-serving businesses and condominiums along its A1A corridor across the street and just south of the 5011 building.
Planning board member Mark Marsh said the strip is not ideal for residential use as called for in Ocean Ridge’s plan.
“If Briny does go ahead and do a village market, you would have one piece of that — a small commercial entity,” he said.
In 1969, the Town Commission voted to phase out the commercial district over 40 years. The Sivitillis sued in 1997 to overturn the commercial ban. A settlement entitled them to stay until 2000. That was extended and extended again last year to 2014.
The Sivitillis had plans to convert the property to three townhouses. “We really have a full intention of doing it,” their daughter, Lisa Sivitilli, told the board. “We asked for the extension because of the real estate market.”
She said that several years ago the family gathered 1,200 signatures of people who wanted the commercial strip to remain.
“We live here. We work here. We’ve always been in the community as residents,” Sivitilli said.
One concern is that should the businesses be forced out, the Sivitillis may not be able to convert the property to residential immediately.
“Let’s try to keep the status quo because we don’t want an empty building. We don’t want a blighted area,” Kaleel said. “Now is the time to do that planning.”