OCEAN CITY- Parking concerns sent the developers of a proposed luxury resort and spa back to the drawing board last week after the appeals board denied a request for a waiver of some spaces on the planned redevelopment.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing the developer Effie’s Beach, LLC and Sarantis Properties, explained the history of the site during a Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) hearing last Thursday. Over the years, the site was once planned as Jennieville, a mixed-use project, and Holt’s Landing. Most recently a site plan for an eight-story condo project had been approved, but that project never came into fruition.
“Since then, there have been five site plans, one of which was for an eight-story condo,” he said. “It was approved and ready to go, but it was never built. Thankfully, my clients have it now and want to do a responsible development that meets the comprehensive plan.”
Off and on for decades, there have been attempts to redevelop the old Holt’s Landing property at the base of the town at South Philadelphia Avenue to no avail. Recently, a development group that has done other notable projects in the resort has begun moving forward with a potential resort hotel complex on the site, but has run into challenges with meeting the required amount of parking for the odd-shaped parcel.
Sarantis Properties is well into the planning and design of a new luxury 90-room hotel on the site with a full-range of upscale amenities. The property offers some of the best panoramic views in Ocean City near the Inlet. Tentatively called the Kyma Luxury Resort and Spa, the upscale project came before the Board of Zoning Appeals last Thursday for a hearing on couple of special exception requests, including a waiver of the parking requirements needed to make the project possible on the odd-shaped triangular parcel near the Inlet and the base of Philadelphia Avenue.
There are 61 parking spaces on-site. The developer is in negotiation with the town to lease the old Whiteside lot, which would provide another 40 spaces, meaning there would be 101 parking spaces for 90 hotel rooms if the 12-spot waiver was approved. Cropper said despite the waiver request, the parking situation would be better than what had been approved for the site in the past.
“This developer has done a great job in providing as much parking as possible,” he said. “This is so much better than that condo project that was already approved.”
Architect Keith Iott said the location of the proposed hotel complex lent itself to a lot of pedestrian traffic, which could ease the strain on parking in the downtown area.
“That’s the magic of this site,” he said. “You can walk to all of the downtown amenities. You can walk to the pier, you can walk to the rides, the restaurants and bars. That’s what’s so special about this parcel.”
Iott said the negotiations were ongoing with the old Whiteside lot, but there were potentially other options for offsite parking in the downtown area for the project.
“There might be something else done with Whiteside in the future,” he said. “The City Council has committed to 40 spaces, but they might not all be at Whiteside. They will be within 600 feet of the hotel though.”
Cropper said he anticipated some pushback from neighboring residents and other downtown businesses on the parking issue.
“I don’t know in 33 years if I’ve ever done a parking waiver here or in the county that the neighbors have supported,” he said. “Parking is at a premium anywhere you go.”
When it came time for public comment, Cropper’s previous statement proved to be prophetic. First up was City Councilman Frank Knight, commenting in his role as a private citizen and downtown resident and not as an elected official.
“I’m totally for redevelopment of Ocean City,” he said. “This should be done in a responsible way. That means it should benefit everybody. You have in front of you tonight an eight-story, 90-room hotel and spa complex. We all know 101 spaces is not adequate for a project this size. They should really be talking about adding spaces rather than waiving them.”
Downtown resident Brian Keith echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s a beautiful design,” he said. “I love the building, but I just hope it never gets built.”
Downtown resident Karen Nelson agreed the project was attractive, but could not get past the parking issues.
“We’re not against the development of that property,” she said. “It just has to be appropriate development. It can’t be taking away parking spaces.”
When it came down to the board weighing in, BZA member Christopher Rudolf said he shared concerns about the uncertainties surrounding the proposed offsite parking.
“I’m having a little heartburn over where these offsite parking spaces are actually going to end up coming from,” he said. “The state where we are right now, I just don’t think that aspect of what is being asked for is ready for prime time.”
BZA member Mark Jahnke agreed there were potential parking issues, but suggested it was a larger downtown problem and this particular developer shouldn’t necessarily have his feet held to the fire over it.
“It’s tough for me,” he said. “People are already saying there is a parking issue down there, so why is it falling on this project specifically? With all of the issues with parking down there, nothing has been done about it.”
BZA Chair Alfred Harrison agreed, but said there are always creative ways to make a project work.
“As a resort town, we have an inherent problem with parking,” he said. “It could be a substantial adverse effect. There are ways for them to come up with more.”
Cropper raised concern the BZA board was holding the project to a different standard.
“I feel like you’re holding us to a higher standard than the code provides,” he said. “The code allows elasticity for unique situations. The staff recommended it. It’s consistent with what you’ve done elsewhere and there are parking problems all over town. The master plan talks about incentivizing redevelopment.”
Rudolf said the developer had opportunities to address the parking waiver issue in other ways.
“I don’t want to make an impossible situation for anyone in town trying to redevelop,” he said. “They could have done it differently and they chose not to.”
With that said, Jahnke made a motion to grant the special parking exception for waiving 12 spaces, along with a provision for 10 compact parking spaces. Rudolf seconded the motion, which didn’t necessarily mean he supported it.
With just Harrison, Jahnke and Rudolf at the dais, there was barely a quorum and no motion could pass without one member seconding for the sake of a vote. That motion failed 2-1 with only Jahnke in support. Then, Rudolf made a motion to deny the waiver request for the 12 parking spaces. The motion passed 2-1 with Jahnke opposed.
There was still another order of business to dispense with for the BZA. The developer had requested a variance from the 19-foot side-yard setback on the south side of the proposed hotel complex along S. First Street, which is essentially just a paper alley that has not been paved. The request to provide a variance from the side-yard setback and the landscape setback on that portion of the property was needed to allow for a one-story mechanical room for the restaurant in the proposed hotel.
“We’re asking for a one-story structure with only equipment in it,” he said. “There would be no guest rooms, and no restaurant. It’s about 990 square feet. They could put a dumpster out there, or the HVAC system and it would perfectly legal. This developer wants to spend the extra money and enclose it and make it appear to be part of the building with high-end finishes.”
The BZA members voted unanimously to approve that request for a variance from the required setbacks on that side of the building.