OCEAN CITY – A future hotel to be located south of the Route 90 Bridge had its request to convey and close the dead end of Seabay Drive in order to acquire required parking tabled this week due to neighbors’ concerns of losing public parking in the area.
On Monday evening, 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 being 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 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 proposes 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.
“In this area Seabay Drive extends north across what was the acquisition of State Highway Administration for Route 90, and because Seabay Drive was there the engineers for the acquisition of Route 90 created what is a triangular area in the south of the actual traveled roadway along Route 90 what was probably one can speculate the intent to have an exit onto Seabay Drive and go east on 61st Street,” Moore said.
According to Moore, McGean has received approval from SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer to convey the triangular piece of property to Ocean City but the request still has to go before the SHA office and that could take up to eight months.
“We have some plans that we believe will accommodate the city’s best interest,” said Moore, who is aiming to speed up the approval process by going through the city instead.
Besides creating a “green space” in the dead end of Seabay Drive, Moore pointed out Ocean City’s code will allow for the parking spaces located at the newly proposed entrance to be shared by both the hotel and the public.
“The way it is going to look for you parks and recreation area is going to be accommodated, marked as far as parking spaces, landscaped and a large green space, so we believe it is a win-win situation because even though you are granting us the right to use it in calculation of our parking we are granting the public parking right as well,” Moore said.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic didn’t find the proposal to be a fair trade.
“There are more parking spaces on Seabay Drive than the six that they are asking for by cutting it off. I count almost 10 spots if we leave it the way it is. 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. The project can continue on as is. The rooms can be completed and then outfitted once the state comes on.”
Moore interjected the project’s financing to be consummated next month is conditioned upon the hotel having 150 rooms with a mix of suites, which also requires the additional parking.
“We can’t proceed because the funding requires we have the right mix,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out part of the old OC Health and Racquet Club’s parking lot is in the triangular piece of land the state owns, which also includes an existing driveway entrance.
“If the developer of the hotel wanted to utilize that portion of Seabay Drive that is in the state right-of-way, they would have to go to District 1 and get an entrance permit,” Dare said, pointing out that process would take far less than eight months. “If you did that, it appears possibly that you could get your six additional parking places within your property … I am trying to figure it out so you don’t have to do anything to Seabay Drive until the state transfers in the future. I believe transferring property that we don’t need to the private sector or the tax base to be able to put it to better use is something that we would want to do.”
The majority of Trader’s Cove property owners who spoke during the public hearing voiced concerns over the parking congestion on 61st Street and didn’t want to lose the additional parking space on Seabay Dr., especially for the tennis center.
“They [tennis center] need that parking. Ten spaces versus six spaces make a significant difference. It gets pretty crowded. You also have restaurants in the area and beach goers, so parking is critical. The layout being proposed looks like an accident waiting to happen,” Traders Cove resident John Murray said.
Traders Cove resident George Balunis agreed.
“The street is used for parking. I see it all year, especially during prime time … Seabay Drive is an extension of 61st Street when it comes to parking, and I would recommend preserving the parking,” he said.
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. The matter will return to the Mayor and City Council on Sept. 3.