OCEAN CITY – Following a lengthy discussion about parking and exterior design, resort planners this week voted to approve a site plan for the redeveloped Majestic Hotel.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Pam Robertson opposed, to approve the site plan for the Majestic Hotel redevelopment project. While the new facility will feature an art deco design, Robertson said she had concerns that the exterior did not follow design standards for the upper downtown design overlay zone.
“There are so many things that are inconsistent with the overlay,” she said.
Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy presented commission members this week with a site plan for the Majestic Hotel project, located along the Boardwalk at 613 Atlantic Avenue. As proposed, the buildings on the property would be demolished for the construction of 100 hotel rooms, hotel amenities, nine employee housing units and 8,780 square feet of commercial space.
“This is a big project that has been in the works, as you know, for several months,” Gordy said. “They have been doing some redesigns trying to get exactly what it is that they’d like to present for the redevelopment of the Majestic Hotel.”
Gordy told the commission the project would be developed with the use of air rights – granted by the Mayor and Council in July – and a front-yard setback variance, which would allow the first floor of the hotel to be built 12 feet closer to the Boardwalk. She said the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals granted the request on Oct. 13.
“What they are going to do is build the enclosed structure, instead of 32 feet back, they have gotten approval to come up to the 20-foot mark and have a 20-foot remaining setback,” she explained.
Gordy said the project would also feature both onsite and off-site parking, with a second lot to be located across the street at 607 Baltimore Ave. Architect Rick Schoellkopf said parking would provide one space per hotel room.
“It sounds like we’re building less parking than required but we’re not,” he explained. “What we’re doing is so much better than what’s there now. Right now, there’s 22 spaces for 75 units. We’re going to put 100 spaces for 100 units.”
Schoellkopf noted, however, that the developer would utilize parking nonconformity credits for the retail and employee housing aspects of the project. He said commercial space located along the Boardwalk would not have parking.
“I think we know 90% of those folks are coming off the Boardwalk and not parking …,” he said. “And the employee housing is going to be deed restricted. It’s going to be J-1s that don’t have cars. So we don’t feel like we’re putting a lot of pressure on the parking situation.”
Schoellkopf said the most notable aspect of the project was the building’s exterior, which would feature colors such as pink and mint and various art deco elements. While acknowledging that the design was a departure from traditional coastal architecture found in the downtown district, Schoellkopf said the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) supported the project.
“The building itself is a little risky I think because it’s a little colorful, a little lively,” he said. “I was happily surprised that the OCDC really supported it.”
Commissioner Joel Brous said he also supported the art deco design.
“I like the retro, I really do,” he said.
Commission Chair Joe Wilson agreed.
“There’s some precedence for it,” he said. “I think it’s cool. I like it a lot.”
For his part, Commissioner Palmer Gillis said he supported both the design and the parking plan but questioned the lack of parking for retail employees. Schoellkopf said the goal would be to staff the hotel and retail areas with seasonal workers living in the onsite employee housing units.
“Most of those employees would be for the retail and the hotel,” he said.
Going back to the exterior design, Wilson questioned what materials would be used. He said the OCDC had requested paint colors and materials be provided to the organization.
Schoellkopf said the exterior would feature metal, plank boards and other materials. He said he would also provide the OCDC with paint samples.
“Colors was one of their concerns,” he said. “We’ll certainly have them look at the final colors. We will address that.”
Schoellkopf explained that while the upper downtown design overlay zone provided design standards for development projects between 3rd and 17th streets, they did not apply to façades that face the Boardwalk. He said the façade, however, should match the sides and back of the building.
“The only spot downtown that’s exempt from the OCDC is Boardwalk-facing units,” he explained. “Technically the sides and back of a Boardwalk building are OCDC. But there’s another thing in the OCDC that says the front and sides and back should look alike.”
While she acknowledged that the OCDC had no control over the Boardwalk-facing façade, Robertson said she was surprised that the OCDC accepted the proposed design for the project.
“Art deco really isn’t Ocean City,” she said. “I’m surprised it’s not the coastal cottage look … It’s not traditional.”
Wilson, however, argued it was difficult to apply such design standards to large redevelopment projects. Schoellkopf agreed.
“It’s hard to do a big building that looks like a little seaside village,” he added.
Robertson also questioned the design incentives that allowed the developer to include units above the fifth floor.
“What justifies getting extra rooms above the fifth floor?” she asked. “What are they giving back to get the incentive?”
Schoellkopf said the owner would not only provide employee housing and sidewalks but would pay for a bus stop on city property and reconstruct 7th Street, among other things.
“There are a bunch of things that are costly to the owner that are assets to the city,” he said.
For her part, Gordy said staff recommended the commission approve the site plan with several conditions. One of those conditions, she noted, was that the developer must comply with the minimum requirements of the OCDC upper downtown design overlay zone.
“That right there is a condition of approval …,” she said. “This decision doesn’t have to be made tonight if you need to have more information, if you need to think about any of the items you have questions about.”
After further discussion, however, the commission voted 4-1, with Robertson opposed and Commissioner Kevin Rohe absent, to approve the site plan with both staff and OCDC recommendations.