ROXANA – The owner of a resort motel will move forward with plans to redevelop his facility after receiving a variance from a town appeals board last week.
Last Thursday, the Fenwick Island Board of Adjustment – a group of five property owners who hear appeals covering the interpretation or administration of the town’s zoning code – voted to approve developer Spiro Buas’ request for a variance to exceed the town’s height limit at his property on Coastal Highway.
Buas has plans to demolish the aging Sand Motel and rebuild a new hotel in its place. While the building itself will be lower than the town’s 32-foot height restriction, the variance will allow a protruding elevator shaft to exceed those limits by up to 4 feet 6 inches.
In July, the developer applied for a building permit to begin construction on the new hotel and submitted design plans, which included an elevator shaft that would overrun the town’s height limit. However, the town’s building official deemed the elevator shaft overrun as part of the structure and therefore, according to town code, could not exceed the town’s height restrictions.
In an appeals hearing at the Roxana Fire Department last week, the Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to uphold the building official’s decision, leading the developer to seek a variance that would allow the building’s elevator shaft to exceed the town’s height limit.
Project architect Keith Fisher told the board that industry code required empty space at the top of the elevator shaft for safety and servicing reasons, and that the developer was seeking a variance of no more than 6 feet above the town’s height restriction to accommodate equipment and space that allows the elevators to function.
While ramps could have been added to each floor to keep the elevator shaft within the town’s height restriction, Fisher added the alternative could become a hazard to patrons.
“We wanted to place it in an area that was going to be beneficial to everybody,” he said.
Buas’ attorney Tim Willard noted the protruding elevator shaft would occupy 153 square feet of the 19,500-square-foot roof.
“It’s not a lot,” he said. “It’s less than 1 percent.”
Willard said undue hardship to the property owner outweighs the impacts on neighboring property owners. He added the new hotel is expected to enhance property values and stimulate the local economy.
“The whole spirit of this project, which is not contrary to the spirit of the zoning law, is it’s an improvement,” Wilalrd said.
Buas said the overall design of the hotel mitigated the facility’s impact on surrounding neighbors. In addition to placing the protruding elevator shaft toward the back of the building’s roof, he said hotel rooms were relocated to reduce neighbors’ privacy concerns.
“There is no animosity between me and the city …,” he said. “The code is the code, and I can’t have something they think is not allowable, so we had to go this course. I have no problem with that, but I don’t see how anyone could deny this.”
Town officials said the board received 87 letters in favor of granting a variance and nine letters opposed to granting the variance.
Among those in opposition was James Street resident Jacque Napolitano, whose property sits directly behind the Sands Motel. She argued she was in favor of seeing the Sands Motel rebuilt, but was against the process the developer took to pursue the project.
“I think the way you guys have gone about it has been pretty rough for all of the residents here …,” she said. “I feel it’s not been transparent here. It’s been very covert.”
Napolitano added the hotel’s elevator shaft overrun, as well as the building’s rooftop amenities, would impact her property.
“I have a very small home,” she said. “It’s going to probably annihilate my privacy … my property has basically been disintegrated.”
James Street resident Warren Hayden told the board he purchased his home in Fenwick Island for its views of the bay and the sunset, which will be blocked by the protruding elevator shaft.
“That’s part of the value of our house,” he said.
Hayden added he chose to purchase a home in Fenwick Island for its strict zoning rules.
“Everybody is in favor of the hotel,” he said, “but the next time it might be 50 feet from your house and 99 percent of the people are against you … Maybe you’ll say, ‘hey, they were right.’”
Following discussion and public comments, the board voted 3-1 with member Marlene Quinn opposed to grant the developer a variance to exceed the 32-foot height limit by up to 4 feet 6 inches.
While she applauded the developer’s design, Quinn said she was not in favor of a variance that would harm neighboring property owners.
“This decision is not made by popular vote, and I feel that the most votes that were against this were from the properties that neighbor this place and I feel that those have to be taken into consideration,” she said. “I also don’t think it’s just a matter of economics. I think there’s a lot more at stake here.”
Board member Richard Benn recused himself prior to the hearing.
Last week’s Board of Adjustment hearing was the latest hurdle in Buas’ efforts to redevelop the Sands Motel.
In 2015, for example, Buas spearheaded an effort to change the town’s ordinance to allow one hotel room for every 600 square feet. Despite public concerns, the council voted 5-2 to approve the ordinance change, which would allow the Sands Motel to be rebuilt with an additional 27 rooms.
The redevelopment project, which will be part of the Hilton brand of hotels called the Tapestry Collection, met further scrutiny from some residents last month when it was learned that the town’s building official approved the developer’s plans to place HVAC units on the hotel’s roof, allowing the equipment to exceed the town’s height limit.
While the placement of the units was initially denied, town officials sought further guidance from the town solicitor before reversing their decision.
Officials argued the mechanical units were not defined as a structure in the town’s ordinance and, therefore, should not be enforced in the height restrictions. Opponents of the decision, however, argued town leaders were not informed until after the Sands Motel had been given permission.