OCEAN CITY — If it’s true beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and aesthetics are subjective, it appears the resort’s planning commission and the developers of a major chain hotel along one of the main entrances to Ocean City couldn’t be further apart on the issue of a final design.
In 2014, the Planning and Zoning Commission granted site plan approval for a new 150-room, eight-story Residence Inn by Marriott hotel along the bay adjacent to the Route 90 Bridge. The preliminary design called for a stark white wall on the north side of the hotel, which is situated east to west. On three sides, including the east, west and south exposures, the hotel’s design included attractive windows, undulating roof heights and other design features, but the original drawings of the north façade facing Route 90 was a charmless expanse of white wall with few windows or other design features.
As a condition of site plan approval, the developer and architect promised to return with a redesigned north façade at some point to satisfy the planning commission’s concerns about the aesthetics. However, with the hotel now roughly 90 percent complete, the north façade, despite a few tweaks including some added window features, still resembles the original drawing and was called on multiple occasions on Wednesday a “prison wall.”
There is a plan to create an undulating wave pattern on the north façade at some point in the future which would break up the long expanse of white wall. However, with the project about 90-percent complete, the painted wave pattern has yet to surface, forcing the planning commission to haul the developers back in on Wednesday to answer for the unfinished final product.
“We’ve created a design feature to break up that north façade,” attorney Joe Moore said. “The concept plan includes what we’re calling the wave feature to finish the hotel. The plan was to be open for the season and finish the wave design after having at least one season under our belt.”
Planning Commissioner Peck Miller pointed out a revised drawing presented to the commission includes a roof line far different than the straight line roof on the north façade in the finished product.
“What was presented to us was a roof line of varying heights,” he said. “What is being built does not. These are two different buildings.”
Moore said he hoped the Planning Commission wasn’t seeking a major design change with the project about 90 percent complete.
Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis said the public has been keenly aware of the rather bland final design of the north façade of the hotel.
“We were told you were going to break up that long white wall that we’ve been told looks like a prison,” he said. “We’ve had about 20 calls. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, obviously, but we’ve gotten so many calls. What we’re wondering is what are we going to get to break up that long white wall?”
Project architect Jeff Thaler said the plan was to add the wave feature and that the commission was holding the developer’s feet to the fire over the north façade design.
“We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “I respectfully disagree this is not an attractive north façade. You can look at every building in Ocean City and make the same argument. There are no architectural design standards.”
Moore said the wave design would be added after the hotel is opened and starts producing revenue.
“We would like to do this is in the reasonable future,” he said. “We thought we’d be open and we have to make money. If you can’t give us two seasons, we would hope you could give us one.”
Gillis reiterated what was promised is not necessarily what is on the ground.
“Everyone was excited when we saw this drawing,” he said. “The problem is we’re not getting this drawing. It’s unfair to put the planning commission in this position.”
Moore said the developer was committed to adding the wave design on the north façade but reiterated there were financial constraints to having it in place before the hotel opens.
“What we’re committed to I hope will be satisfying,” he said. “The design features are not under the purview of the planning commission. This is an aesthetic issue and not a life safety or welfare issue.”
However, Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley said the aesthetics along one of the city’s main gateways was precisely what the commission was charged to protect.
“We’re not happy with the north side as it stands now,” she said. “I think this falls under the welfare of Ocean City because the welfare of that corridor is ours to protect for the rest of the citizens. Let me hear a final offer.”
After considerable debate, the commission agreed to have the developer return within 30 days with a plan to install the wave feature on the north façade by December 2017 and a plan to ensure that it gets done in the form of a surety bond or other funding mechanism to pay for it.