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City approves design of Hampton House; court challenge coming

(Aug. 23, 2013) The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission this week gave the go-ahead for a redevelopment project at the Boardwalk’s Hampton House, although the owner will be proceeding at his own risk given that legal action is expected as part of the ongoing battle between developers in the area and residents of the El Capitan condominium.

The commission reviewed a site plan from Sunsations owner Avi Sibony to redevelop the property, located on the Boardwalk between Fourth and Fifth Streets. The Hampton House, a hotel that has been vacant for some time, was recently acquired by Sibony and is currently a temporary Sunsations location.

Initial plans for the site called for multiple floors of retail and a new branch of Sibony’s Taphouse restaurant. These were scrapped, however, due to the extreme zoning variances needed to accommodate them and the general opposition from the neighborhood.

In May, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals had denied similar variances for De Lazy Lizard’s proposed Boardwalk restaurant at the former Lambros Apartments building, which is 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– that De Lazy Lizard’s proposed bar and restaurant on the boards would create an undue parking burden on their already-congested area.

However, the Hampton House proposal was subsequently altered to eliminate any parking exceptions. The project is now a single story with two retail stores. Parking is provided at a basement level, accessed from the back of the building.

The only variance from code in the new design is a setback of 20 feet, less than the prescribed 32 feet for the Boardwalk south of 12th Street. However the Lambros building and the Tidelands hotel, which borders the Hampton House to the north, both have 20-foot setbacks are significantly taller than Sibony’s current design.

“Those two had maintained more or less a 20-foot setback from the early days, as best we can tell,” city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith said. As such, the burden was placed on the opponents of the project at the El Capitan to show that they would be unduly burdened, given that the building was in character with the neighborhood even if not up to the new setback requirements.

The BZA approved the variance in a 3-2 decision last month. But Smith said that the city has already been contacted regarding an impending appeal of the decision by the El Capitan, which – per state law – will be heard in Circuit Court.

“They are in litigation, so to speak, with that appeal,” Smith said. “The only way the project would be stopped, though, would be if someone got an injunction of some sort to halt the process.”

Barring that, the Planning and Zoning Commission should continue with the review process based on the BZA’s decision, board attorney Kevin Gregory said. It is Sibony’s own choice and risk to actually build the project with the possibility that the court could later disallow it.

“If the court were to reverse and remand the BZA’s decision…then he would proceed at his own risk,” Gregory said. “However, it is appropriate for this commission to proceed with the assumption that he will go through with the project at his own risk if he so chooses.”

Other than inquiring about the storm-proofing of the basement parking – which will have aluminum panels that can be lowered for weather emergencies – the board had no objection to the design.

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