(July 26, 2013) Following the split-decision approval of a setback exception two weeks ago by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, the redevelopment of the Hampton House property on the Boardwalk between Fourth and Fifth streets will come before the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission next week.
Developer and Sunsations chain owner Avi Sibony received a special exemption from the Boardwalk zoning district’s 32-foot front setback requirement, allowing for a 20-foot setback on the building he is proposing to replace the Hampton House, which is a temporary Sunsations location.
Despite previous proposals for the property that would’ve required larger exceptions or variances, the building footprint allowed for by the BZA will be a single-story, retail establishment.
“The current plan, what was presented to us, was Boardwalk-level retail with parking included underneath the building,” BZA Chairman Al Harrison said. “It’s a single-story with a little bit higher façade than current, and I think that played into the board’s decision.”
However, “the opposition was mobilized and vocal,” Harrison said.
The approval of the Sunsations project comes roughly two months after the denial by the BZA of the De Lazy Lizard’s restaurant project at the former Lambros Apartments building, adjacent to the south of the Hampton House.
In that case, the board heard considerable objection from neighbors on the block, particularly unit owners of the El Capitan Condominum, that De Lazy Lizard’s proposed bar and restaurant on the boards would create an undue parking burden on their already-congested area.
They pointed to the lack of parking at Hooters one block away, which had previously received a 17-space waiver from the BZA, as a major culprit, and said they feared that their stretch of Boardwalk was becoming overburdened with a bar crowd that the neighborhood’s parking and other amenities could not support.
Similar objections were heard regarding the Hampton House project, Harrison said.
However, the current case is a different matter because Sibony, unlike De Lazy Lizard, is not seeking a variance for parking after having eliminated the option of having a bar in his new building.
“He had a 29 space parking credit because of the original use of the Hampton House,” explained city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith. “The difference between the 29 spaces he was already allowed and what he needed, he provided on-site with what I’d call a basement-type parking structure of 16 or 18 spaces.”
The town requires that all new establishments provide a certain number of parking spaces, based on the type of business and the square footage occupied. Many older facilities, however, have been granted a historical right by the city for their pre-regulatory lack of parking and are credited as not needing the number of parking spaces necessary for their grandfathered size and use.
Sibony’s original project, Smith said, had included a new branch of the Taphouse Bar & Grill, which would’ve further increased the site’s parking burden relative to the original hotel use. That proposal was revised, however, to eliminate the restaurant use.
“It’s less dense now than the previous use, and less dense than if it were to be a restaurant,” Smith said. “He abandoned the restaurant, made it purely retail, and provided the difference in parking.”
The only non-conformity before the BZA, then, was the sub-standard setback for the new Sunsations building. But both the Lambros and the Tidelands buildings adjacent to the Hampton House lot also have sub-standard setbacks, which changed the legal basis for the exemption, given that the project’s non-conformity is not out of character with the neighborhood.
“It required a special exception rather than a variance, which is an easier burden on the applicant,” Harrison said. “According to our board attorney, the ball goes to the opponents’ court to prove that there would be significant adverse affect on their property, and there was effectively no testimony to that regard.”
“If he had been trying to go up five stories on that sub-standard frontage, and it would’ve impacted those folks’ view, the vote might’ve been different. But he’s doing it piece by piece, and starting with one level that you won’t be able to see from the El Capitan.”
Although Sibony’s project is no more onerous than the pre-existing adjacent buildings, the logic of allowing it for the sake of equal treatment does tie the city’s hands as far as ever establishing the setback actually prescribed by code.
“I am a strong believer in the Boardwalk 32-foot setback, and that’s why I voted against the project,” said Harrison, who was one of two of the BZA’s five members to do so. “There are developers who have conformed. The developer of the El Capitan did conform to the 32-foot setback