Jul 29, 2014

Christian Brothers Retreat May Be Demolished

The oceanfront retreat has served priests since 1898.

Christian Brothers Retreat May Be Demolished

After more than a century serving the De La Salle Christian Brothers, a landmark oceanfront retreat at 31st Street and Central Avenue will likely be demolished to make way for duplexes.

The Brothers met with their Ocean City neighbors at Our Lady of Good Counsel on Tuesday night to share a new plan for redeveloping the Ocean Rest Educational Center, which had served as an educational retreat and place of worship.

Ocean Rest consists of two three-story buildings on an 8-acre oceanfront property. The state fire marshal prohibited the Brothers from using the top floors of the buildings about five or six years ago, and last year they were prevented from using the second floors.

The structures have 19th-century plumbing. They do not conform to modern fire code or Disabilities Act requirements, and they have no heating or air-conditioning system. 

The Brothers came to neighbors a year ago in January 2012 to seek feedback on a plan to demolish one building and sell two 40-by-100-foot lots for residential development, then use the proceeds to renovate the southern building at the same height and using the same footprint for continuing use by the Brothers.

But on Tuesday night, representatives of the Brothers said that plan would be far too costly, and the charitable religious order could in no way afford what would amount to a multimillion-dollar retrofitting project.

Instead, they plan to demolish both buildings and create four lots for residential development.

Attorney Steve Nehmad said the new lots (unlike the existing retreat) would conform with existing residential zoning. The lots would fall into zones for residential duplexes with 40- or 50-foot frontages.

The four lots would extend from Central Avenue to the beach and be twice as big as the required lot size, according to Nehmad. He said the Brothers intend to keep one, maybe two, of the lots for continued use as a retreat and sell the others.

Architect Robert Bachich said the Brothers have no specific design for structures on the lots at this preliminary stage, but he said each duplex unit could include five bedrooms and 2,000 to 2,500 square feet. Parking would be under the buildings and accessible from Central Avenue. The alley that ends at 30th Street would not be extended.

Environmental consultant Junetta Dix said that the redevelopment would be required to obtain CAFRA permits and that the existing dune system would in no way be affected.

Brother James Martino, director of administration for the District of Eastern North America, told neighbors it was only with a great deal of regret that the Brothers came to the decision.

The Christian Brothers, also known as the Brother of the Christian Schools, have been in the same location in Ocean City since 1898.

The northern building included a chapel that was open for summer Masses.

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