When a hotel project’s massive scope prevents it from meeting the parking code, it stands to reason connections to the project would downsize the development to fit the existing rules those before them had to follow.
In the case of the Margaritaville project – a 265-room hotel, three-restaurant resort between 13th and 14th streets — the thought was to ask Ocean City to change the parking code to accommodate it, transfer of alley air rights as well as secure a right-of-way conveyance.
The tweaking of the rules to allow the project to happen doesn’t sit well with many, especially those who have gone through development projects playing by the existing rules. G. Hale Harrison of the Harrison Group – owner of 12 locals hotels and seven restaurants – knows about all this, as his family has developed several large-scale hotels, most notably the Hilton on 32nd Street in 2006 and the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites on 17th Street in 2001. Calling the city’s approach “unfair and unreasonable,” Harrison believes the city is clearly bowing to the project and finds it unacceptable to tweak parking rules and convey public property.
“In every step of the way, when the project doesn’t comply with the city code, the Mayor and Council has shown a willingness to change the city code,” he said. “There’s another item on the agenda tonight to change the parking code because Margaritaville can’t comply with the parking code. … There is no justification to benefit one single developer … Other developers play by the rules. We would be embarrassed to ask you for this.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan sees it the same way and was blunt in his assessment last month, saying, “I don’t know how you can determine an entire block and 90,000 square feet is restrained from providing parking. It’s restrained because you are overdeveloping the property. … “I don’t know how you determine there is a uniqueness to that property in the downtown area that restrains parking. I just don’t see how that’s possible.”
The council has set a dangerous precedent here and created a perception it wants to see this project happen. In this specific case, the city has shown a willingness to bend the rules and change law to allow the Margaritaville project to take place. There were some tweaks made to the project early on, but the developer has largely gotten what it wants every step of the way.
While the project is not specifically named in the ordinances being deliberated over, it’s clear the Margaritaville development is driving the requests. This course of action by the city will eventually resurface in the future when other requests come forward.