OCEAN CITY – Ocean City officials again delayed a decision regarding a Margaritaville Hotel and Resort proposed for the former Beach Plaza Hotel site.
The Ocean City Planning Commission met Tuesday to continue deliberations regarding a 13-story hotel and conference center. The Margaritaville complex would encompass most of the city block between 13th and 14th streets. Pam Buckley, chair of the commission, made it clear at the start of the discussion a final determination wouldn’t be made Tuesday because the project as proposed relies on an alley swap that the Ocean City Mayor and Council isn’t set to vote on until next week.
“I’m not going to call for a decision today until after the Mayor and Council makes their decisions on the right of way and the alley,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to us or the city or the council for us to send in something that doesn’t have proper numbers in it.”
In August, developers presented the commission with conceptual plans for a proposed Margaritaville Hotel and Resort Complex to occupy the Beach Plaza Hotel property. The plans call for 265 hotel rooms, three restaurants — including the JWB Grill, the Landshark Bar and Grill and a coffee shop and provisions store — as well as three outdoor pools, one indoor pool, a wellness center and gym, 14,000 square feet of convention space and retails stores facing the Boardwalk.
Earlier this month, the commission hosted the required public hearing on the proposed planned overlay district (POD) that would allow for the redevelopment project. This week, commission members expressed various concerns regarding project specifics, including parking, landscaping and the number of units in the hotel.
Buckley said she didn’t like the fact that the project’s landscaping included a green roof, as those had failed in Ocean City in the past. Staff noted that the green roof also didn’t help reduce nutrients or increase curb appeal but that even without the green roof the project featured slightly more landscaping than the property had now.
Buckley also questioned the extensive retail portion of the project, which amounts to 20,000 square feet. Commission member Chris Shanahan said he didn’t object to the size of the retail area.
“Space in retail is critical,” he said, adding that merchants needed to be able to spread their wares out and change displays.
Other commission members questioned the retail being allowed as an accessory use, as the project is in an R-3 residential zone. Buckley said the project was not in the Boardwalk Commercial zone. Commission member Lauren Taylor agreed that the R-3 zoning was important.
“Towns have what’s called a sense of place,” she said. “What you want in a city is something that is distinctive and unique and people come because it is what it is. Once you start putting huge buildings with facades of retail across the front, you might as well be in any large city there is.”
She said the scope of the project should be smaller and the retail space should be adjusted.
“It should fit into that sense of place and that residential feel, not commercial downtown Miami,” she said.
Commission member Peck Miller said he felt the project worked but he didn’t want to set a precedent. Commission member Palmer Gillis brought up the letters submitted by the public regarding the project.
“I read through the letters from the neighbors and I’ve listened to this panel say this project is too massive,” he said. “I guess what I’d like to understand if I can, is it five units too many? Fifty-five units too many?”
Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville pointed out that setting a number of units wouldn’t necessarily ensure changes the commission wanted would occur, as they didn’t know how the developer would adjust the project.
Gillis said he’d nevertheless like to hear from his peers. The informal poll revealed four of the seven thought the proposal was acceptable as presented.
“I think they did an excellent job,” Shanahan said. “This is an incredible opportunity for Ocean City. I think we should be receptive to the challenge they’re accepting. It’s a huge investment. It’s never a slam dunk. From where I sit I can’t arbitrarily say let’s reduce it 15 rooms. I think it’s good the way it is. I can’t say it’s too big. I don’t have that kind of experience quite honestly. I know the people at the Sea Mist and I empathize with them, but they seem to be the ones, the only ones complaining in the whole area.”
Taylor said she thought it was a great project overall but that it shouldn’t exceed 12 stories.
“I just think that 12 stories would be better for the city, better for the neighborhood and not as much pressure on the neighborhood,” she said. “The height bothers me.”
Staff pointed out that the number of units currently in the project were contingent on the alley approval being considered by the Mayor and Council next week as well as the Baltimore Avenue adjustments being considered. The council has in the past been supportive of similar alley proposals if it results in the betterment of the overall project.
Hugh Cropper, the attorney representing the developers, is optimistic that the commission will adopt findings of fact recommending the project at its Dec. 14 meeting. He said the density of the project was permitted by code and that the development fit with the resort’s comprehensive plan.
“Planned overlay districts are encouraged by the comprehensive plan—not just permitted—to promote mixed use unified development for larger parcels,” he said. “Ocean City is looking for destinations. Margaritaville fits it perfectly.”