OCEAN CITY — Despite some concerns over traffic, the view of the building from Route 90 and the potential impact on neighboring properties, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved the site plan for a new 142-unit hotel on the bayside at 62nd Street.
The new Marriott’s Residence Inn is proposed for the long-vacant site at 62nd Street south of Route 90 formerly occupied by a health club and restaurant complex.
After a meticulous review of the site plan, including parking, traffic and shadow impacts on neighboring properties, the means and methods of getting guests across Coastal Highway to the beach and some aesthetic issues, Planning Commission members gave the green light to the expansive project they ultimately deemed a good use of the property.
The plans call for an eight-story hotel on the odd-shaped parcel along Route 90. The Residence Inn and Suites will be aligned parallel to Route 90 with the front of the building, its entrance and most of the amenities facing south. The project comes in less dense than what the zoning of the property calls for and is expected to be less intrusive then what was there before or what could be allowed.
Nonetheless, Ocean City planners spent two hours carefully reviewing its potential impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the proposed eight-story hotel was originally slated for 150 units, but the developer, Atlantic Planning Development and Design Inc., had scaled it back to 142 units because of the desire to create a better project and due to parking issues. The proposed hotel currently has one parking space plus for each unit plus a few more as required by the code. The developers were limited somewhat by no flexibility in terms of parking requirements.
“They have no right for parking variances,” he said. “They either comply or they don’t. That’s why they reduced it by eight units.”
Local attorney Joe Moore, who represents the developer, said the project was designed to minimize the impacts on long-standing neighboring properties, particularly the Trader’s Cove condominium complex.
“The proposed building is much more benign than what is allowed in terms of intrusion on neighboring property,” said Moore. “Neighbors are always concerned. We want to let our neighbors know we’re going to do the right thing.
Moore called on traffic engineer Betty Tustin from the Traffic Group to explain the minimized impacts. Tustin pointed out a trip generation study illustrated the minimal impacts on traffic in the area. For example, the original use of the property generated an average of 122 trips per day, while the property if developed to its maximum use under the code could generate 280 trips. Tustin explained the proposed Residence Inn would generate just 63 trips, or a fraction of what could be allowed under the code. “There will be considerably less trips than what was there before and what could be there,” said Tustin.
Nonetheless, Trader’s Cove has some concerns with the impact on parking and traffic in the area. Vehicles coming out of the area must turn right onto Coastal Highway and make a U-turn to head north in an area where Route 90 enters the city. Another concerning issue is getting pedestrian traffic from the hotel across Coastal Highway to the beach near the busy intersection. Moore explained the developers planned to provide a shuttle service to the beach and that signage and an aggressive education program would be provided to guests instructing them to use the crosswalks nearby.
Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, the developers met with Trader’s Cove representatives to address some of the concerning issues.
“We had a nice meeting on Saturday with one or two exceptions,” said Buck Mann, whose company is the property manager for Trader’s Cove. “We do have some concerns, however.”
Trader’s Cove Condo Association President Tom Whalen said the meeting was productive, but reservations about the potential parking and traffic issues continue.
“Our biggest concern is parking,” said Whalen. “We’re concerned the city parking requirements are unsatisfactory. At peak hours, the Sea Bay Hotel will fill up and spill over, and we’re worried about that here.”
Mann said Trader’s Cove did not necessarily oppose the project, but wanted some of its concerns addressed.
“Trader’s Cove wants to be a good neighbor,” he said. “They’ve agreed to meet with us on several occasions depending on what you all do tonight.”
Another significant issue discussed was the shadow study for the project. The town’s code requires a shadow study for most projects of significant size to determine the possible impacts on neighboring properties at certain times of the day. The study for the Residence Inn revealed the shadows would be contained on the property for the most part, although town planners wanted a second opinion.
Satisfied with the potential shadow impacts on neighboring properties, the Planning Commission had a long debate about the possible impacts of shadows on Route 90 in terms of visibility and even the potential for icing of the roadway during the winter. In the end, however, the planners agreed any possible impacts on Route 90 were not a reason to hold up approval for the project.
“We can’t take away the ability to build and develop this property based on what might happen with shadows on Route 90,” said Commissioner Pam Buckley.
Another big debate ensued over the aesthetics of the view of the building from Route 90 and what is essentially the rear of the building. The front of the building has balconies and other architectural features that break up the sight lines, but the side of the building facing Route 90 is basically a long, flat structure with a lot of glass and windows, but no distinguishing architectural appeal, a design town planners characterized as a monolith.
“I don’t care for that view from Route 90,” said Buckley. “But as I look at the color elevation, I think the landscaping might take care of my concerns.”
Planning Commissioner Lauren Taylor agreed the north side of the building needed some distinct architectural features.
“Can’t we get some vertical feature on the north side so it doesn’t look like the back of the building, even though it is the back of the building?” said Taylor.
Planner Palmer Gillis said the property has always come under scrutiny because of its location at one of the main entrances to the resort.
“I know there’s a lot of concern about the entrance to Ocean City,” said Gillis. “It goes all the way back to when Mr. Furst had the property.”
Robert Heron of Atlantic Planning Development and Design explained the north side of the building did have some interesting aesthetic features including different colored glass and lighting to break up the largely flat surface, but promised to explore other possibilities to meet the commission’s desires.
“We’re trying to talk about some visible breakages on the north side of the building along Route 90,” said Heron. “We’re trying to keep a clean, crisp design while keeping it contemporary.”
The commission approved the site plan and will forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council.
“I think it’s a quality project and a quality development,” said Taylor. “Traffic is traffic, and at a few peak times it might cause problems, but for the most part it should be manageable.”
Commissioner Peck Miller cautioned the developers to make good on their promises regarding pedestrian safety.
“My concern is getting your guests out to the beach safely,” said Miller. “I only hope you’re as diligent as you say you will be with the shuttle, signage and guest pedestrian education.”