(April 5, 2013) The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a proposal this week that will see the aging Ocean Voyager motel on 33rd Street razed and redeveloped following this summer season into a La Quinta Inns & Suites franchise.
The Ocean Voyager, as it now stands, is a two-story motel-style structure that occupies the block bordered by 33rd and 32nd streets to the north and south, and Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues on the east and west. The motel also contains the Pirate’s Den restaurant and pool bar on its first floor.
The proposed structure will be a five-story hotel, built in the standard style of the La Quinta franchise. Four floors of rooms will be built on colonnades, so that patrons can park on the first level, under the hotel. The new structure will also contain a bar/restaurant, with a maximum seating capacity of approximately 50 people.
Despite the scope of the project, not much is changing as far as the city’s regulations are concerned, according to Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith. Most of the city’s impact fees, which charge developers for the burden they will be placing on the town’s public infrastructure, such as roads and trash collection, are calculated by number of rooms. The Ocean Voyager had 100; La Quinta will have 101.
“They’ve been credited with what they now have,” Smith said, “so they’ll really just be paying the city for one room.”
Additional impact fees, such as those for wastewater, might apply if the hotel drastically increases the number of drains and fixtures versus what already exists in the Ocean Voyager. The design of the new project also maintains a certain area of permeable surfaces, such as plants, which is required by the city to minimize increased storm water runoff from concrete and pavement.
“They have to maintain a certain percentage of the ground as vegetation and they have done that,” Smith said.
The commissioners’ major concerns centered on parking. The city code requires new construction to have a certain number of parking spaces included, based on the size and use of the facility. The Ocean Voyager, however, pre-dates those regulations and the city typically “grandfathers” in any existing code non-conformity as long as the new structure doesn’t make the situation worse.
“Whether or not it will be ‘adequate,’ I can’t answer,” Smith said. “It is legal and they have reduced their deficiency [in the proposed facility]. Right now, they have nowhere near what they need [for the Ocean Voyager].”
In order to pack more parking into the lot, however, many of the parking spaces are narrower than what the city considers standard. According to Chris Carbaugh of the Atlantic Group, the developer representing the property’s owners, most of the spaces will be around nine feet wide.
“We’ve seen projects where, once you put in the columns and walls, it doesn’t work out like it does on paper,” said Commissioner Peck Miller. “We’ve seen a lot where they have the nine feet, but you still can’t open the car doors.”
Also of concern is the fact that the parking area will have a ceiling clearance of as little as seven feet in some places, meaning that patrons with taller vehicles would have to park in the few spaces that are in front of the hotel and not under it.
Although the city’s zoning code would permit the structure to be built higher to provide more clearance, the current design height is already at the 50-foot cutoff prescribed by the city Fire Marshal’s code. If the building was to go up beyond 50 feet, the fire code would require it to have sprinklers and smoke ventilation equipment that add considerable cost to the project, something which many developers intentionally build low to avoid, Smith said.
“You’ve all heard me say this before,” said Commissioner Lauren Taylor, alluding to the friction between the Planning and Zoning and Fire Marshall’s Departments within the town. “We’re making a project not as good as it could be because of an outdated fire standard.”
Also of issue is the means of entrance and exit from the hotel’s lot, which is nearly impossible to do from 33rd Street or from the highway side because of traffic volume. The project proposes installing a sidewalk grade — or “curb cut” — for a main entrance and exit on 32nd Street.
A secondary access point will be on Baltimore Avenue, where the Ocean Voyager’s current, and only, lot access is located. Given that the north and southbound lanes of Baltimore Avenue are divided, the only way to enter the lot currently is to make a U-turn at 33rd Street from the northbound lane into the southbound.
“I don’t want to be the one promoting more U-turns at that intersection,” noted Commission Chair Pam Buckley.
However, eliminating the existing curb cuts on Baltimore would give the new project only one point of ingress and egress, an even dicier proposition. Further, Smith assured the commission that the flow of traffic inside the proposed facility, which moves in a circular pattern, would not cause either access point to be backed up.
“Once you can get in, you have good circulation on the property,” he said.
The project also offers the opportunity to settle some ownership confusion between the city and the property’s owner. According to Smith, the lot was originally laid out at a somewhat odd angle. When the city built and paved 33rd Street, it discovered that the road actually occupied a triangular corner of the private lot.
When the property was developed in the 1950s or ’60s, Smith said, the owners requested that the city give up its right-of-way to a small alley that ran north-south through the lot. In exchange, the city requested that the owners grant the city permanent rights to the land on which 33rd Street was built. But the sliver of land was never actually given to the city outright, something that the current owners have agreed to concede.
“I believe we’re now in agreement that they will do a deed of transfer to the town,” Smith said.