OCEAN CITY – At last night’s Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, it was learned one of the oldest motels in downtown Ocean City will come down to make room for another big name brand hotel.
On Tuesday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed a site plan for a proposed Hyatt Place Hotel complex to be located on the east and west side of Baltimore Ave. on 16th Street where the Seascape Motel currently stands. The Seascape Motel is a family-owned operation. The applicant of the new project is Tom Bennett, managing member of Seascape Motel, LLC.
The Seascape Motel dates back to the 1950s and was one of the first motels built in Ocean City. It will be replaced with a 105-guestroom Hyatt Place Hotel with four employee housing units, two bridal prep rooms, associated retail area, conference area and a restaurant on the east side of Baltimore Ave. and the ocean. Across Baltimore Ave., the west building will consist of 65 hotel guestrooms with a restaurant.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the large scale project would be built by the town’s code “height-by-right” clause, which allows the number of stories to be determined by square footage. The Seascape property contains up to 70,000 square feet, which allows for an eight-story building, 80 feet in height.
The property is also grandfathered into the town’s code and enjoys the right of nonconformity when it comes to density and parking requirements. The project also includes 12 Development Transfer Rights (DTRs) to allow for 12 additional units.
“They had the ability to have 93 units, so they are going to build 105 units. They have one apartment in the existing building and in exchange they receive two hotel rooms. The DTRs would be required as part of the approval of the site plan,” Smith said. “The four, two-bedroom employee apartments are considered as an accessory to the hotel and do not count as density against the project. They will be deed-restricted as accessory use only, and not for rental purposes.”
The Seascape Motel has accumulated parking over time, and currently has the motel parking lot on the east side of Baltimore Ave. as well as two other smaller lots on the west side between Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues.
As proposed, the project would provide a total of 113 parking spaces with 61 spaces under the east building and 52 spaces under the west building. A total 170 rooms are proposed, which without the project’s nonconformity status would make it deficient by about 70 spaces including parking for the apartments, conference area, retail and restaurants. That does not include employee parking.
Commission member Lauren Taylor pointed out between parking for the entire project and employee parking the project has to be deficient by at least 100 spaces.
“There is already no parking there in the summer,” she said. “Additional parking has to be part of this project.”
According to Smith, the family also owns a parking lot on the west side of Baltimore Ave. and 15th Street that provides about 48 parking spaces but the proposal does not commit the lot to the project.
“The property does enjoy nonconformity and although that may discomfort some of you, they have that right,” said attorney Hugh Cropper said, representing the applicant. “The Planning Commission cannot go back and change that code … legally we do not need a parking waiver.”
Cropper explained the separate parking lot on 15th Street is owned by the same family but a different LLC.
“It may be available for a practical matter of employee parking or overflow parking but it is not going to be part of the project,” he said.
While the commission cannot override the code, members are still responsible for ensuring the health, welfare and safety of the community, commission member Peck Miller stated.
“It is our job to make sure the neighborhoods don’t get stressed, that its safe, and we take care of the surrounding community, and I don’t feel this meets that test at all,” Miller said. “We are redeveloping Ocean City, and we should look at the areas in this town … you are not being a good neighbor to do this kind of project to this scale.”
Cropper responded the commission’s mandate of ensuring health, welfare and safety does not give it the power to overrule the law.
“They have not even utilized all of their nonconformity. As an absolute legal matter, they will be less non-conforming at the end of the day then they are now,” he said. “It is beyond your authority, beyond your job, to rewrite the code. You are not recognizing a legally existing nonconformity.”
Taylor, whose family redeveloped the former Santa Maria Motel to the Seascape’s south into a Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, persisted the lack of parking is not only a bad business decision, but will cause a negative impact on the resort.
“I will tell you most people bring more than one car when they come, and the front desk will have nothing but people standing there screaming because they can’t find a place to park. When we redeveloped, we did not use our nonconformity because we wanted to bring it up to current code wanting our guests to be happy by having a place to park,” she said. “You will be charging people $300 a night and they will have nowhere to park. They are not going to want to come back to Ocean City.”
Commission member Palmer Gillis furthered the hotel guests will start to impede on other businesses’ parking lots and neighborhood streets.
“The issue is a how extreme it is,” he said. “As a business person, I always try to exceed the parking code … you are pushing the envelope too far. There is legality and reality. The legality is you meet the code. The reality is you are putting stress on the neighborhood and it will not serve the project as well as it should.”
The parking deficiency for the hotel rooms alone is a problem, Commission member Joel Brous argued, as he asked for some kind of compromise.
Cropper asked for a recess to discuss the issue with the family. Just a few minutes later, he returned before the commission, offering the lot on 15th Street to be used as part of the Hyatt Place Hotel project.
“The family respects your concerns, and if we can get an approval tonight they will deed-restrict the other property and tie it into this project,” Cropper said. “With the additional parking lot, the project would become less deficient by about 30 parking spaces.”
Miller recommended the additional lot be valeted to allow for stacked and compact parking that would lessen the deficiency even further. He made a motion to approve the site plan contingent upon the parking lot on 15th Street be covenant with the project, DTRs be included, the four apartments be deeded as employee housing only and the bridal prep rooms not be rental units.
The commission voted 6-0 to approve with Chair Pam Buckley absent.
According to Keith Fisher of Fisher Architecture, who designed the project, demolition of the Seascape Motel is planned for mid-January, and the east building is estimated to be complete by the 2016 summer season.
The demolition will include several businesses on the Boardwalk side of the existing motel, including Peppers Tavern, a mainstay on the Boardwalk for decades that was formerly known as the Tavern by the Sea. Its’ fate as well as other businesses on the Boardwalk side of the property are unclear at this point but they will be razed as part of the property redevelopment.