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Ocean City

Fate of 61st St. Marriott in limbo

(Sept. 12, 2014) By the time this paper hits stands, the fate the of the proposed 61st Street Marriott will have already been decided – although as of press time, it wasn’t looking good.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals was scheduled to meet last night, Thursday, Sept. 11, to hear an application by the property’s developers to permit tandem parking using hydraulic car-stacking lifts.

But both City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission have already weighed in with generally negative opinions, concerned that allowing the lifts would set a precedent for their proliferation throughout the resort, causing eyesores and safety concerns.

“I’m not in favor of seeing these lifts all over town, and that’s what we’re going to have,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic.

However, no one was necessarily against the project as a whole, but rather against the use of car-lifts to skirt the city’s strict parking requirements.

“It’s a common sense thing. It’s going to be a good project that’s going to look good coming into Ocean City,” Mitrecic said.

“I almost think this request is – not out of desperation – but they really want this project done,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight. “There’s got to be a way that we can have this project without the lifts.”

Foundation work has already begun on the Marriott at the site of the old OC Health and Racquet Club, situated at the western end of 61st street along Sea Bay Lane, stretching between Route 90 to the north and the Trader’s Cove townhouses to the south. The hotel is slated to contain 150 rooms in eight stories, including the typical amenities such as pools and a gym.

The project is being done under the city’s “Special Bayside” development regulations, which were established in 2007 to encourage larger-scale, mixed-use redevelopment on the west side of Coastal Highway.

Under the Special Bayside zoning, projects can receive additional height and density rights in exchange for increased setbacks and landscaping. The regulations also limit any exceptions to the city’s parking requirements, which mandate a certain number of off-street, on-site spaces depending on the project’s size and use.

“The Special Bayside regulation will not allow you to reduce the number of spaces and/or their size,” said city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith.

Currently, the Marriott is short required parking spaces for eight of its 150 rooms – 12 spaces, given that rooms over 500 square feet require 1.5 spaces. The project had previously tried to have the city cede a portion of Sea Bay Drive in order to reconfigure their parking access, but this was found to be illegal under Maryland law since the road already had an existing public use, albeit only for street parking.

The hotel’s backers – Virginia-based Palmer-Gosnell Hospitality – have been reluctant to cut the number or configuration of rooms, given that they have already secured a financing agreement with Marriott based on the franchise’s strict design and amenity standards.

The dozen proposed hydraulic lifts – which allow a parked car to be hoisted up so another can be parked beneath – would be located at the rear of the hotel, fenced off from view, and operated by valets.

But creating more parking by using lifts tests the intent of the Special Bayside regulations, officials contended.

To get permission for the lifts, the project would need to get clearance from the BZA for a special exception to the town’s parking design code, which otherwise requires “ingress and egress for an automobile without requiring another vehicle to be moved.”

However, as Smith said, the Special Bayside zone states that “no special exceptions or variances may be granted to this provision that would allow more or smaller compact spaces,” causing officials to argue that the lifts did indeed represent a compacting of parking, so to speak.

“One of the things everyone agreed about for the bayside zone was ‘let’s establish rules and regulations where everybody knows where they are and what you can build,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “That was the trade-off.”

Although the council voted unanimously to recommend against the allowance, the legal determination is ultimately dependent on the BZA hearing.

“This is just a resolution giving the council’s opinion,” Meehan said. “This is not a change of ordinance, although I think the Planning and Zoning Commission needs to look into that.”

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