OCEAN CITY – Satisfied with some of the conditions recommended by staff and some changes to the design proffered by the developer, resort planners on Tuesday moved the proposed Margaritaville Hotel and Resort complex to the next step.
In August, the Planning Commission reviewed conceptual plans for the proposed Margaritaville Hotel and Resort, which, if approved, would encompass virtually an entire city block downtown on the oceanside facing the Boardwalk between 13th Street and 14th Street. In November, the planning commission held the requisite public hearing for the proposed planned overlay district (POD) needed to accomplish the major redevelopment project.
However, in December, the developer, NOSC, LLC, withdrew the request and pulled back the application for the POD. In a letter to town planning staff, the developer’s attorney Hugh Cropper explained the developer was proposing some significant changes to the project as it was first presented, but wanted to move forward to discuss the next steps.
Among the changes proffered by the developer was the project will now be under single ownership. The initial proposal anticipated a condominium regime form of ownership with the retail elements of the project. The developer has also engaged a consultant to add enhanced landscape in the setback areas. In addition, the developer is pursuing workforce housing opportunities within walking distance of the project.
The proposed project over 12 different lots would include 265 hotel rooms and three restaurants, including the JWB Grill with high-end steaks and seafood, the Landshark Bar and Grill and a coffee shop and provisions store in the lobby. The project would also include three outdoor pools and one indoor pool, a wellness center and gym, 14,000 square feet of flexible convention space, retail stores facing the Boardwalk and many other upscale amenities.
At the outset of Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville outlined some of the changes to the project for commission members. From the beginning, it appeared the lynchpin for the project was the conveyance of a portion of Washington Lane between 13th and 14th streets to meet the requirements of the POD. The existing 16-foot alley bisects the proposed site and the developer originally requested the town abandon that portion on Washington Lane in order to build a consolidated POD project on the vast site.
However, on Tuesday, Neville explained the developer was no longer requesting the alley conversion, and instead was seeking the air rights over that portion of the alley in order to connect the different elements of the project. The developer would agree to improve that section of alley from the existing 16 feet to 23 feet and agree to maintain it as a public throughway.
Neville said the 265-room hotel and resort complex would meet the 90,000 square feet requirement with a portion of the easement along Baltimore Avenue expected to be deeded back to the property owner. Neville also explained some other potential conditions including setback requirements, no outdoor sales of food or beverages from the retail elements, no outdoor displays of merchandise, no free-standing signs, including A-frame signs on the Boardwalk, no public bicycle rentals, although bicycles could be provided to hotel guests, no sound amplification on the Boardwalk and appropriate hours of operation for the retail spaces.
Neville also discussed the parking requirements for the project and said the developer had more than enough spaces.
“We heard about a parking deficiency and the impact on the neighborhood,” he said. “With 400 spaces proposed and 350 required under the code, they probably have an extra 50 to work with.”
The planning commission directed much of there attention to the developer’s proffer to find workforce housing in the nearby vicinity for the vast project. Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis questioned how that would be accomplished.
“Where is the workforce housing and how far away is it?” he said. “How many employees are you expecting and how many would be working at one time?”
Cropper explained total workforce for the entire complex is expected to be between 300 and 400, with 80 working at one time during the season. He said the developer has a contract on a property within walking distance with an estimated 48 beds for workforce housing.
Commissioner Lauren Taylor voiced similar concerns.
“With the workforce housing, there has to be a number,” she said. “Is it five rooms? Is it 50? There has to be a target number.”
Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley attempted to do the numbers. She said it sounds like there would be 80 workers in a single shift with three eight-hour shifts each day for a facility that is open 24 hours.
“That’s 240 right there,” she said. “It sounds like 50 beds isn’t going to go very far.”
Cropper said the developer has secured some offsite seasonal workforce housing and is constantly looking for more opportunities in close proximity.
“There is a property under contract,” he said. “It currently houses 48 workers. It’s on the corner of 14th Street and Coastal Highway. We’ve talked about up to 80 people on a shift, but obviously not 80 people at 4 a.m.”
Cropper said while the property under contract has 48 beds, there are also 20 parking spaces under the developer’s control nearby that could be considered part of the workforce formula.
“We have more than enough parking,” he said. “We could designate some of that parking for the seasonal workforce. They could drive from elsewhere and park over there and walk a block to work.”
Taylor said that could work, with 48 workforce beds and another 20 employees with parking spots nearby, bringing the estimated number to 68.
“Our recommendation should be walking distance,” she said. “That’s the theoretical goal. This is a business decision for them. If they have a workforce problem, they will figure out a way to solve it.”
The plan is for the Margaritaville complex to provide valet parking service. There is ample parking on site for guests, including those who choose to valet, but the planners voiced concern the valet parkers might choose to utilize on-street parking in an already tight parking area.
“I think we need to assert the valet service should not be using street parking,” said Buckley. “That needs to be a stated goal.”
No action was taken on the requested planned overlay district for the Margaritaville project. Instead Buckley instructed staff to take the notes and comments and conditions suggested and imposed and come back with a proposal for the next planning commission meeting.
“We need staff to go back and wrap all of this up in a nice bow and bring it back to us with a recommendation,” she said.