OCEAN CITY — Ocean City planners this week approved a final site plan for a major downtown hotel redevelopment project after many of their concerns with the original version were allayed.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning Commission approved the site plan for a redevelopment of the old Royalton Hotel on the Boardwalk at 11th Street. Earlier this month, town planners granted a rather reluctant preliminary approval for the Royalton redevelopment site plan, but sent the developers back to the drawing board to rework certain aspects including a requested larger drop-off and pick-up area, wider sidewalks, more landscaping and a better employee housing plan, for example.
The plan calls for a major renovation of the old Boardwalk hotel with an expansion from the existing 38 units to 57 total units including four units for on-site employee housing. The plan calls for a five-and-a-half story hotel including a top level indoor pool amenity along with the continued mixed-use commercial elements on the Boardwalk level.
Earlier this month, the Planning Commission considered two components, including a subdivision from the neighboring property. For decades, the old Royalton and the adjacent Boardwalk Terrace have existed as condominiums and have a shared facilities agreement. The two amenities have reached a settlement in a civil suit to separate the two entities, but issues between the Royalton and the Boardwalk Terrace still simmer as the former’s redevelopment plans move forward through the approval process.
With its preliminary site plan approval for the Royalton project in early November, the Planning Commission opined the ongoing settlement issues with the Boardwalk Terrace should be a condition of the final site plan approval. On Tuesday, however, Planning Commission attorney Will Esham, Jr. told the board some of the settlement issues had not been resolved and recommended commission members move forward with the site plan approval process in a vacuum of sorts outside the ongoing legal issues.
“I think you need to administer the site plan in the normal fashion,” he said. “We should proceed with the normal course, and I think we should remove that condition.”
Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley agreed the issues before the board in terms of the site plan approval should be separated from the legal issues between the Royalton and the Boardwalk Terrace.
“We’re not a judge or jury,” she said. “That’s not our purview. I think we all agree we should remove that condition.”
With the preliminary approval earlier this month, the Planning Commission asked for some revisions in the first version including widening the sidewalks along 11th Street and adding some landscaping or other features in the no man’s land of sorts near the property line. Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the revised site plan for the Royalton addressed those concerns.
“This includes a widening of the sidewalks on 11th Street up to the property line with landscaping in the front setback from the Boardwalk,” he said. “I think this accommodates some of your concerns with the original site plan.”
At its earlier review of the site plan, the Planning Commission voiced some concern about the amount of on-site parking in relation to the expanded number of units. The property owners also run the Senator Apartments on the opposite side of Wilmington Lane that is used primarily as employee housing. Smith said the Senator Apartments could provide as many as 24 deed-restricted parking spots to the Royalton, bringing it close to the required number of spaces.
“They’re going to dedicate covenant-restricted off-site parking,” he said. “They will have a shared facilities agreement with the Senator apartments and that is being completed.”
In its review of the original version of the site plan for the Royalton, town planners voiced concern about the limited drop-off and pick-up area for the redeveloped hotel. The original plan called for little more than a single space dropping off and picking up visitors, and the Planning Commission raised concern over the potential for stacking on a big changeover day in the summer. The developers went back to the drawing board and reworked the drop-off and pick-up area, which alleviated the concerns of the town planners.
“There are probably at least two parking spaces in the pick-up and drop-off area now and they might be able to get a third,” said Smith. “They can widen the alley in that section to get the larger pick-up area you requested.”
Buckley agreed the site plan presented on Tuesday represented an upgrade on the original version.
“Substantially, we can get three cars in there for drop-off and pick-up,” she said. “I think that alleviates a lot of their concerns.”
Smith said given the physical constraints of the property, getting as many as three spaces for drop-off and pick-up was about the best the developer could do.
“It’s probably the best you can get with three drop-off spaces,” he said. “We’re about as close as we can get.”
Another issue for the Planning Commission with the original version was the on-site employee housing units. The original plan sought four employee housing units, one on each of the four floors, but the town planners expressed concern they should be bunched together and not spread across the property. The Planning Commission also voiced concern the hotel could eventually rent the dedicated employee housing as hotel rooms.
However, the revised plan reviewed this week had the employee housing located on just two of the floors, and not all four as originally proposed. In addition, design changes made clear in no uncertain terms the units were dedicated to employee housing and not potential hotel rooms.
“It’s certainly better than looking like regular guest rooms,” she said. “It’s a vast improvement over what was first presented.”
Satisfied with the upgrades for the parking situation, the widening of the sidewalks and the additional landscaping, along with changes to the employee housing units and a resolution of the settlement issues with the Boardwalk Terrace, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the final site plan for the Royalton.
With the original plan, there were some issues with some of the windows and shared walls with the adjacent property and limited setbacks, all of which fell under the life-safety category, but Smith assures the Planning Commission those things would be addressed and the project would meet the code.
“A lot of those life-safety things will be administered through the building permit phase,” he said.