Friday, September 12 – Council Takes No Action On Hotel’s Proposed Driveway

OCEAN CITY – A proposed drop-off, pick-up circle in the plans
for a new downtown hotel caused the Mayor and Council considerable heartburn
this week, but after a lengthy debate, the elected officials decided the final
say so was not in their purview and took no action.

The debate revolved
around a planned horseshoe-shaped ingress, egress point for the new Sleep Inn
Hotel and Suites on Baltimore
Avenue near 1st Street, formerly the
Avelon. The u-shaped driveway would allow hotel guests to pull in off Baltimore Avenue to
check in and find out where they are supposed to park. It would also be used as
an area for delivery trucks to access the hotel and its amenities, including a
small restaurant, and could presumably be used for taxis picking up and
dropping off fares from the hotel.

On the surface, it
appears to be a logical solution for the new hotel, which will replace the old
hotel on the site torn down last spring, but town officials this week voiced
concern about the load and unload feature facing Baltimore Avenue in what is already a
congested area of town. The circular driveway is entirely within the former
Avelon property, but the two curb cuts that provide its ingress/egress points
do fall within the town’s right-of-way.

There are no direct
impacts on Baltimore Avenue
itself, which falls under the purview of the State Highway Administration
(SHA), which has reviewed and signed off on the plan. The biggest issues voiced
by the council on Tuesday are concerns with the impacts on pedestrian safety
and access and the potential for cars and trucks using the circular driveway to
overflow onto Baltimore Avenue
during peak times.

The hotel will have
adequate parking in the rear of the building with one space for each of the
proposed 83 units. There will be an access point on the west side of the
property on Philadelphia Avenue, and the property can also be accessed by an
alley that runs parallel to Baltimore Avenue starting at North Division Street.

However, the circular
driveway on Baltimore Avenue
itself is reason for concern for town officials. City Engineer Terry McGean
explained it probably isn’t the best solution, but it likely isn’t avoidable
because of the constraints of the property. McGean said it is better than the
alternative, which could lead to confused hotel guests stopping right on Baltimore Avenue
and blocking traffic.

“You can’t look up in
Engineering 101 and see if this is good or bad,” he said. “Am I happy with how
close it is to Baltimore Avenue?
Not really, but I have to weigh the plusses and minuses of it. The alternative
could be traffic stopping in front of the hotel causing back up in that area.”

McGean said there are
plenty of examples in other areas of Baltimore
Avenue where vehicles double park to run into
hotel offices. It is also no secret many delivery trucks double park along the
roadway because there is limited access to hotels and other commercial
businesses along Baltimore Avenue

“I’d rather have them
pulling in there than stopping in the middle of the street,” he said. “If it
was a perfect world, I would have designed it differently, but this is what we
have. Am I in love with it? No, but it’s better than the alternative.”

Some on the council
questioned why the project was so far along before the council got a chance to
weigh in on the circular driveway. Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, for example,
disapproved of the “let’s wait and see if it works” theory.

“There is already so
many traffic problems here, why would we encourage more traffic interacting on Baltimore Avenue?”
she said. “This is a traffic nightmare already and we’re going to wait and see
if this works after it’s already been built? I don’t know why this town doesn’t
prevent things before they happen.”

Zoning Administrator
Blaine Smith said the proposed circular driveway for drop-offs and pick-ups was
a compromise of sorts, pointing out the alternative could be having the new
hotel directly on Baltimore Avenue.

“The thing to remember
is this is a zero-setback property,” he said. “They could build the hotel right
up to the lot line. This is a much better alternative than that.”

Much of the discussion
revolved around the potential for delivery trucks to stack up in the driveway
and spill out onto Baltimore

Mayor Rick Meehan
pointed out the concern could be unfounded because of the size of the facility
itself and the size of its amenities.

“I don’t know how many
beer trucks you think are coming here,” he said. “They just have one small restaurant.
This isn’t Seacrets. Is this the best situation? Probably not, but all downtown
properties have these issues. This is a nice hotel on the west side of Baltimore Avenue,
which we are trying to encourage.”

After considerable
debate, the elected officials decided the issue wasn’t really in their purview
and took no action on the proposal. SHA has signed off on the project from its
standpoint, and the only issue for the Mayor and Council are the curb cuts in
the sidewalk, which are allowed.

“The real issue for the
Mayor and Council is whether or not they are building something in the
right-of-way,” said Meehan. “They are not. All of this is to the west of the
right-of-way, so it really isn’t our issue.”