OCEAN CITY – A proposal to grant air rights above Washington Lane will move forward following discussion this week.
In a work session Tuesday, Joe Moore, attorney for the developer of 613 Atlantic Avenue, came before the Mayor and Council with a request to grant air rights above a portion of Washington Lane to allow for the construction of a single building connecting parcels to the east and west of the alley. Moore said his client was seeking air rights as they moves forward with plans to replace the existing Majestic Hotel.
“Where we are is to ask you to cast a vote to move forward with considering an ordinance waving the air rights over the property, which of course is the Majestic Hotel,” he told the council this week. “We’re mindful of the fact that we have an iconic property and therefore want to develop it in the best way possible for the benefit of the citizens of the town. Therefore, we have provided a facility which enhances the property from the standpoint of the fact we are developing the entire property from the Boardwalk to Baltimore Avenue.”
As proposed, the Majestic Hotel property will be redeveloped to include two buildings connected by a fitness center, arcade, hospitality room and the like. Moore told the council the breezeway underneath the amenities would include ample clearance for vehicles. He added that the proposed air rights agreement would be crafted to include the conveyance of an additional four feet on the westerly side of the alley.
“We also believe we’re improving, by our request, the public safety because we are willing to grant an additional four feet to the width of the alley,” he said. “We believe for those reasons it certainly benefits not only our guests and the development of the property, but the public at large.”
During public comments, former councilman Vince Gisriel shared his concerns regarding the developer’s request for air rights. He noted that the council had granted three air rights ordinances over the years for various project, and that he had opposed each one.
“I note in the packet today there is a precedence set for this sort of thing in reference to two ordinances adopted in 2002,” he said. “I looked up the record and I voted against both of them when I served on the council. And more recently, I expressed concerns about air rights around the 13th Street area.”
Gisriel said one of his concerns regarding the proposed project was density. He noted that while the building above the alley would not include sleeping rooms, it would feature hotel amenities.
“Any removal of those amenities to an open-air space creates more density,” he said. “And I’m concerned about the amount of density, particularly in the downtown area.”
Moore, however, said density was based on the number of sleeping rooms.
“We are not increasing the density, we’re using this for our amenities,” he said. “By being able to locate the amenities in the middle of our hotel, we have again provided that for the benefit of our customers. So we’re trying to give you all a good plan.”
Officials say a site plan application for the redevelopment of the Majestic Hotel has been submitted, but not accepted, pending a discussion by the Mayor and Council on the air rights request and an agreement to move forward with a public hearing. Moore asked the council to consider moving forward with the request.
“We respectfully ask you to vote in favor of moving this forward for consideration of an ordinance, at which time everyone who has any interest would have the availability of coming before you,” he said. “Your vote today, of course, is important for us to be able to move forward, but it is not the final determination to be made.”
In his presentation this week, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville said the council had approved three air rights ordinances in recent years – one for Bonita Beach Hotel, one for Breakers Hotel and, most recently, one for the Margaritaville Resort. He said the proposed air rights for the Majestic Hotel project would extend from 14 feet above the alley to 60 feet in height.
“I want to mention both the zoning districts on the east and west side do allow building construction five stories or 50 feet,” he said. “The reason we would go to 60 feet is to allow for parapet walls, mechanical equipment, those kinds of things that are on the roof that allow it to exceed the zoning height limits.”
Neville added that town departments, utility companies and the fire marshal have completed a preliminary review of the developer’s request and have submitted comments.
“We just call your attention to the fact that there are some site plan related issues that would need to be solved as the project moves forward,” he said. “But at this point the request is really to consider the air rights issue.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked if plans for the property would include a license of use for a bike path. Moore said it would.
“I think we can do that,” he said.
DeLuca then made a motion to consider the applicant’s request, confirm review by public works and discuss conditions prior to authorizing a public hearing and air rights ordinance. After further discussion, the council voted 4-0, with Councilmen Peter Buas and Frank Knight absent and Councilman Will Savage recusing himself, to approve the motion.