OCEAN CITY — Resort planners reached a somewhat amicable agreement with the developers of a major chain hotel this week over the perceived flawed design of its north façade, but it is apparent underlying tensions remain.
In 2014, the Planning and Zoning Commission granted site plan approval for a new 150-room, eight-story Residence Inn by Marriott along the bay adjacent to the Route 90 bridge. The site plan approval was granted after lengthy debates about parking requirements and other contentious issues, but one issue that didn’t figure to be a major issue at the time was the final design of the hotel’s north façade, or the side of the facility facing Route 90 and the gateway to the resort.
The hotel is now 90 percent complete and the north façade, depending on one’s viewpoint, is a charmless expanse of white wall with a few windows or other design features and resembles the back of the building, which, of course, it is.
The Planning Commission asserts the developer was to bring back some design changes for approval prior to moving forward with the substantial completion of the project. The developer, meanwhile, believed the site plan approval included a tacit understanding that some changes to the north façade would be accomplished but would not necessarily have to come back before the commission for approval.
At a meeting earlier this month, the Planning Commission asked for an explanation on how the project was nearly completed without the north façade featuring some sort of design concept to improve the aesthetics. At that time, the developer offered to add an attractive multi-hued, undulating wave design painted on the hotel’s back wall facing the entrance to the resort and asked for deadline of December 2017 to complete the paint job, which would cost an estimated $60,000. The developer asked for an extended deadline in order to get the hotel up and running and earning revenue before investing in the wave design.
The Planning Commission, in turn, asked for the developer to return with a design and a timetable for the wave design along with a surety bond, line of credit or other funding mechanism to ensure the design feature would ultimately be accomplished. On Tuesday, the commission met again with the developer and ultimately approved the plan as presented, but not before some rather snarky comments about the process.
“You all have agreed to make the changes on the north façade based on the site plan approval minutes,” said Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley. “The biggest thing we wanted was a vertical element to break up the roof line rather than just painting the side.”
Planning Commissioner Chris Shanahan said he was comfortable with the wave design paint job, but suggested the developer missed a chance to do something special with the new hotel perched near the entrance to the resort.
“I think that sheer wall will be more visible to people heading out of town,” he said. “I don’t think people passing it heading into town are going to be that focused on it. Although, I really think they missed a great opportunity to do something really cool, especially being a gateway to Ocean City.”
Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis said he believed it was clear in the record the commission desired to see some changes made in the design for the north wall come back for approval.
“There was an enormous amount of dialogue in the transcripts,” he said. “We practically begged for something different. Where we are right now is we’ve asked them to resubmit something and we didn’t attach a timetable to that. We’re in an awkward position because the building is 90 percent done.”
Planning Commissioner Peck Miller agreed there was clearly a gap in communication and it could be tough lesson learned for the commission.
“I’m disappointed with the way it turned out,” he said. “I thought we’d see something sooner. I don’t think we’ll let something get through without specific dates and times in the future.”
Attorney Joe Moore, who represents the developer, said he believed the proposed wave design paint job on the north façade will go a long way in allaying the concerns expressed.
“It is a long, white wall, there’s certainly no question about that,” he said. “We hope the wave design will break up that long expanse.”
Developer Rick Palmer said some changes were made in the design of the north wall and the wave paint pattern was part of the plan from the beginning.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “I appreciate your concerns and we’re not trying to not comply. The wave is not an afterthought, it has been in there for a long time and we believe it will break up that wall. Whether we achieved it or not is open to discussion, but I think it will be pretty dramatic.”
During the meeting earlier this month, it came to light the developer was concerned about going back to its lenders seeking more money for a wave design feature and that the developers desired to get the hotel up and running to start earning money for investing more money in the design. On Tuesday, Miller questioned the relatively low $60,000 estimated cost for the wave design on a project so big and expensive.
“It scares me a little when a developer says he can’t afford a $60,000 improvement on a multi-million project,” he said.
However, Palmer said the commission should have no concern about the developer’s finances and told the planners they had secured a line of credit with their bank.
“I want to address the financial perception,” he said. “We are not financially strapped. We have deep pockets and great lenders. We’ve had problems with the general contractor and we were trying to get open for Memorial Day and we’ve missed a substantial amount of money by not being open this summer. Can we afford it? Sure. I don’t want you to worry about our finances because it’s certainly not an issue.”
The Planning Commission was prepared to vote on a motion that included a December 2017 deadline for the completion of the wave design feature if not sooner and the submittal of a line of credit ensuring it gets done eventually, but not before one final salvo in the debate.
“Even though we did not get any specific date or time, we made it very clear that wall was not acceptable,” said Planning Commissioner Lauren Taylor. “And that it was incumbent on the developer to come back with a design change and they chose not to do it. They chose to build it without bringing it back, so whatever consequences come out of that is because they did not bring the design back to us. Now, we’re trying to work with them to make it work for the city and for them, but it was incumbent on them to bring it back.”
Moore, however, took exception to the perceived notion that the developer had somehow attempted to skirt the approval process for the final design features on the north wall.
“I think that’s an overstatement,” he said. “What we were required to do was provide design features and we have done that. Respectfully, I think that’s an overstatement that we were supposed to bring it back.”
Nonetheless, the commission voted unanimously to allow the developer to move forward with the wave design feature by December 2017 and submit the line of credit to ensure it gets done. There was some minor discussion about including the wave design across the entire north wall of the hotel or just between two architectural bump-out features on either end and the developer agreed to return with drawings of both options for approval before moving forward with the project.