SNOW HILL — Though there’s no timeline for construction in place yet, the approval process for a new hotel in West Ocean City has all of the t’s crossed and i’s dotted. In authorizing the hotel, questions were raised amongst the Worcester County Commissioners about the current 45-foot height limitation for buildings in the area’s zoning.
The new hotel, which has not been identified, is designed to have 81 rooms and will be located off Route 50 west of the Alamo. Because the proposed hotel will break the height ceiling by 10 feet, it had to go before the commission for a special variance.
Development, Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor explained that the main reason for the 45-foot cap in that area was public safety. The idea was to restrict buildings from becoming too tall for local fire departments to deal with, said Tudor.
Since the code was adopted, however, more and more area fire departments have begun utilizing ladder trucks with 90 or more feet of reach.
“It’s not the hazard it was 25 years ago when we put the code in place,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
In the proposal made by Robert Hand, whose firm RD Hand and Associates represents property owner West Ocean City Investments, issues with fire safety are examined.
“There is a ladder truck, capable of reaching the highest habitable floor at the Keyser Point fire station less than one mile from the proposed hotel,” Hand wrote.
The commission unanimously approved the variance for the building. It also started a discussion on the possibility of updating the height limit to better reflect current standards. Tudor pointed out that having to go through the variation process costs the county and the builders time that could be saved by raising the height limit.
However, Shockley asked Tudor how rare similar variance requests were and learned that there have only been three or four over the last five years. With the occurrence so infrequent, he didn’t see much of a problem with keeping the 45-foot limit and just dealing with variances whenever they arise. Shockley noted that not all fire companies possess ladder trucks, so keeping the commission involved in the process might prevent a potentially dangerous situation.
Commissioner Madison Bunting favored updating the limit, especially since there will still be a lot of checks and balances in place in regards to Shockley’s concern.
If the code is updated, Shockley agreed there should be sufficient safeguards in place without needing the commission. Tudor promised to look into what can be done with the height limitation.