OCEAN CITY – A hotel developer’s request to close and convey the dead end of Seabay Drive to construct required parking was denied by the Mayor and City Council this week, resulting in questions being raised about the legality of parking lifts.
A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council held a public hearing to consider the closure and conveyance of a portion of Seabay Drive as well as to convey a portion of land along the west side of the neighboring tennis center property. The portion of Seabay Drive discussed is a right-hand turn off 61st Street on the west end of the tennis center but shortly comes to a dead end as it abuts Route 90.
City Engineer Terry McGean explained last month the developer, Inns of Ocean City, LLC, is building a Residence Inn and Suites by Marriott on the old OC Health and Racquet Club property and is interested in acquiring a portion of the Seabay Drive right-of-way between 61st Street and the state’s Route 90 right of way along with an adjacent 20-foot strip of land at the tennis center.
Representing the developer, attorney Joe Moore explained the initial site plan approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission placed the entrance to the hotel on Seabay Lane, which is an extension of 61st Street with the neighborhood of Trader’s Cove to its south and the hotel project to its north. The entrance was moved to the east side of the hotel on Seabay Drive to accommodate Trader’s Cove but in doing so the project lost a small portion of its required parking spaces. Because the project is in the Bayside Use District, it is not entitled to request a parking exemption.
The new plan proposed an entrance on the corner of Seabay Lane and Seabay Drive cutting off the dead end of Seabay Drive at the point of entrance with three parking spaces running east to west and another three parking spaces caddy cornered running north to south along the tennis court. The remainder of the dead end would become a “green space” with landscaping.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic didn’t find the proposal to be a fair trade as the developer was offering six spaces where Mitrecic counted at least 10 spaces on the street.
“To me, it would make more sense for us to come up with some sort of agreement and leave Seabay Drive the way it is,” Mitrecic said. “I personally would be more inclined to work something out for Seabay Drive alone and not cut into our tennis court property.”
Moore interjected the project’s financing to be consummated this month is conditioned upon the hotel having 150 rooms with a mix of suites, which also requires the additional parking.
Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out part of the old OC Health and Racquet Club’s parking lot in the triangular piece of land at the end of Seabay Drive owned by the state includes an existing driveway entrance, and receiving the state’s permission on the district level to use that driveway entrance could be a more speedy process.
Many Traders Cove residents spoke during the hearing voicing their concerns over the loss in parking for the tennis center as the area is already congested as is.
The council voted unanimously to table the matter to allow time for the developer to work with city staff on an alternative plan to have an entrance on Seabay Drive without losing the majority of parking on the street.
This week the public hearing continued during Tuesday evening’s Mayor and City Council legislative session.
“At the Mayor and City Council meeting of Aug. 18, the presentation made very clear that the public is still using Seabay Drive at this location. Now be it mainly for parking but that is a public use of a public street, and public ways in town are dedicated to public use. It is beyond the power of the Mayor and Council to close and convey a public street that is being used by the public for a purely private purpose, which is what this request is. I think the appropriate thing to do at this time is entertain a motion to deny the request,” City Solicitor Guy Ayres said off the bat.
Mitrecic made a motion to close the public hearing followed by a motion to deny the request. The council voted unanimously to approve both motions.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas reported the developer is going before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Sept. 11 to ask for approval of a parking lift in order to acquire the appropriate amount of parking.
“They can’t get this parking at this point and they have a timeline on them for the end of September to get financed. There is a lift proposed, and the people that live in Traders Cove have said that they don’t know of anywhere else in town that has a lift to make up for lack of parking. I am wondering if it would be appropriate for us to send an opinion from the council because this is the first time this is being considered. If this is passed at the meeting, the council doesn’t have any recourse,” Pillas said.
Ayres confirmed if the BZA grants the request and the council is in opposition the only course of action would be to file an appeal to the Circuit Court.
“If the Mayor and Council have a position, they can certainly attend the hearing,” Ayres added.
Most of the council was unaware of the proposal to install a parking lift and felt hard pressed to form an opinion that evening.
“It is important for us to discuss it and have an opinion about it. I think we are setting a precedent here,” Pillas said.
Mayor Rick Meehan asked for Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith to come before the Mayor and City Council to discuss how Ocean City’s code addresses parking lifts prior to the council forming an opinion. The discussion will be scheduled for the Mayor and City Council’s work session next Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 1 p.m.
“What we are really talking about is the mechanics of a land use. Clearly parking garages are permitted to support the use that is permitted in that district. Whether or not the insides of the structure itself are mechanical, which in this case is so, the zoning code today has setbacks, open space and minimum requirements that they would have to be met, so what we are talking about is the mechanics and do you want lift garages in Ocean City,” City Manager David Recor said. “It is not the first time that we have seen them. I wouldn’t even call it new technology. It may be new to Ocean City but in more urban areas where land is at a premium there are a number of these types of facilities. I think it is just an indication of the extent that this applicant is willing to go to meet the parking requirement and build this hotel in Ocean City.”