Proposed Ocean City Hotel Drops Car Lift Concept After Council Opposes

OCEAN CITY – The request to install car lifts at a proposed hotel ended up not meeting city’s code this week and was pulled from the Board of Zoning Appeals agenda, although the town has the proliferation of car lifts to meet parking requirements now on its radar.

The applicant, Inns of Ocean City, LLC, is building a Residence Inn and Suites by Marriott on the old OC Health and Racquet Club property located on 61st Street immediately south of where Route 90 enters into Ocean City.

For a Residence Inn and Suites, Marriott requires 20 suites to be included within the 150 rooms. According to the code, if a hotel room is over 500 square feet, such as the suites, then a parking space and a half is required. Currently, the site has 152 spaces, and the code requires eight additional parking spaces.

Last week the Mayor and Council denied the developer’s request to close and convey a portion of Seabay Drive that 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. The plan was to create eight additional spaces on the public street but Trader’s Cove residents, which are the neighbors to the south of the proposed hotel, voiced concerns during the public hearing over existing parking congestion between the community and tennis center.

Knowing the Mayor and Council’s denial was approaching, the applicant scheduled to come before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday of this week to ask for approval of a hydraulic outdoor parking structure, referred to as a car lift.

The request was brought to the council’s attention last week as well as the Planning and Zoning Commission. Concerns resulted that if a car lift were to be approved it would open a can of worms for Ocean City.

The council decided to discuss the matter with Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith this week prior to Thursday’s BZA meeting. The Planning and Zoning Commission immediately voted 4-3 to provide a letter of opinion to the BZA against allowing car lifts in Ocean City. The members in opposition expressed not having enough information to make an informed decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, Smith came before the council stating there are a few private residences in Ocean City with hydraulic lifts inside their garage but now major projects are considering the use of hydraulic lifts to stack parking vertically to meet required parking.

“We have never seen them as part of required parking, and part of that is because the zoning code requires all parking to be a certain size, which is nine feet by 20 feet, with proper accessibility and overhead clearance, and these types of devices don’t necessarily meet those requirements,” Smith said.

Mayor Rick Meehan questioned if the proposed structure would meet the test of the code, and if it does not the BZA is unable to grant a parking exemption in the Bayside Development District due to its special regulations.

The town created the Bayside Development District six years ago because of issues involved with a proposed development on the same piece of property. This hotel will be the first project to fall within the Bayside Development District.

The lifts proposed would be located on the northwest and northeast corners of the property between the hotel and Route 90 and are referred to as a “green parking system” that is screened in and camouflaged with landscaping. The lifts would have provided 12 additional parking spaces with each having six spaces.

“Special bayside regulations will not allow you to reduce the number of parking spaces and/or their size. Special bayside regulations do allow for 20 percent of spaces to be compact in the design,” said Smith, who was unclear if the design already met that 20 percent of compact spaces with or without the car lifts.

According to the code, 20 percent of the total number of parking spaces may be compact in size but no smaller than 8.5 feet in width by 18 feet in length. No special exemptions or variances may be granted to this provision that would allow more or smaller compact space.

Council Secretary Mary Knight favored the project moving forward as it is a compliment to the entrance way of Ocean City and questioned if the property’s landscaping credit could be re-evaluated to make more room for parking.

“I almost think this request is out of desperation because they want this project done, and I can’t believe that there isn’t some way we can do this project without this lift,” she said.

Smith responded because of the property’s irregular shape it was already a tight fit for the project to meet all requirements when it comes to landscaping, stormwater management and parking.

Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out there is a 20,000-square-foot section of wetlands west of the property that could be included in the project to provide more room to meet requirements except it is not accessible by vehicles. According to the code, landscaping and parking credits can’t be granted if the property is disconnected.

“It is a good project going into a good place. It would be a nice looking project for an entrance into Ocean City,” Mitrecic said. “I am not in favor of seeing these lifts all over town and that is what will happen. This will open a can of worms. Every development that comes forward from now on is going to want to put a lift in, due to lack of parking, but I also know that there is huge piece of wetlands on the edge of that property that is not accessibly by vehicle but it seems to me that it could be somehow mitigated into the landscaping and stormwater management of this project.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed with Mitrecic and reminded the council the previously proposed development on the property included a pedestrian walkway connecting the two.

“As long as it is privately held, there is a possibility in the future that land will be developed perhaps in a way that is not complimentary to our entrance into Ocean City, so if there is an opportunity now to address that … maybe if this property was dedicated to Coastal Bays [Program] to protect this environmentally sensitive area, which is what we are trying to do with the code that was written,” Dare suggested.

Looking at the concept of car lifts coming to Ocean City altogether, Council President Lloyd Martin stated his opposition.

“The lifts are not appealing to me. If you enclose them and put them inside a structure, I’m ok with it. We need to really have the Planning and Zoning Department take a look at this comprehensively across the board as far as city-wide,” he said.

Staff was tasked with finding out if the request meets the test of the code to come before the BZA. If so, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas made a motion for the council to submit a letter of opinion to BZA stating the legislative body is not in favor of open car lifts on both residential and commercial properties. The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve the motion.

On Thursday, Jeff Thaler of Atlantic Planning, Development and Design, the project’s architect, confirmed the developer’s request to install a hydraulic lift would not be going before the BZA that evening.

“We are using the full 20 percent of compact spaces, and we are re-evaluating our options but we will not be using hydraulic lifts,” he said.

According to Thaler, the applicant could rearrange the parking to have the lift be included in the 20 percent, but because the Mayor and City Council were so concerned over the proliferation of car lifts in Ocean City Marriott has decided not to pursue hydraulic lifts.

It was previously stated the project had a deadline in September to meet to be approved for funding. The financial deadline has been extended to attempt to solve the parking problem once and for all, Thaler said. There are no intentions for the property to become a different hotel other than a Marriott Residence Inn and Suites.

Thaler furthered the 20,000-square-foot property to the west of the hotel site has been found to have no practical use for the project at this time.