(Jan. 11, 2019) Proposed poolside food service at the Beach Bum Motel, at 203 Ninth Street, generated a lengthy discussion over delineating between accessory uses and commercial ventures for lodging establishments during a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Tuesday.
Beach Bum Motel owner Joe Jobson submitted a site plan review for a new 20-by-40-foot open pool house with an 8-by-18-foot kitchen that would serve limited breakfast and lunch exclusively to onsite guests.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said the proposed pool house would be an expansion of a comparable structure currently being used.
“It’s going to be next to the pool, right where the existing pool house already is,” he said.
Hall said aesthetic assistance was obtained from the Ocean City Development Corporation and the city’s Technical Review Committee.
“The initial review of the plans had a less ornate feature and it looked more like a shed,” he said. “They’ve [now] included some shutters, a peaked roof and other amenities.”
Hall also said the applicant was informed zoning restrictions prohibit the inclusion of a restaurant on the property.
Noting a comparable size restaurant would require eight parking spaces, Hall’s recommendations included a prorated total.
“In this case I put down four spaces for an 800-square-foot breakfast nook, so to speak,” he said. “I’m not even sure they need that because this is obviously an accessory use for guests only.”
Hall said the plans also call for demolishing a small structure facing Philadelphia Avenue, resulting in a dozen additional parking spots to bolster the 38 spaces currently available for the 38-room motel.
“One of the benefits of this project is it’s going to add parking and reduce the nonconformity for the hotel itself,” he said.
The applicant also proposed joining the several parcels that comprise the establishment, with Hall noting the expanded pool house would cross current property lines.
Commission Secretary Peck Miller concurred with the recommendation to require four parking spaces with the expansion.
“It allows for some additional people that are working on site,” he said.
Attorney William Esham III confirmed the applicant had no intentions to obtain an alcohol beverage license.
Representing the applicant was attorney Brian Peter Cosby, who questioned the parking requirement noting the facility would be an amenity solely for motel guests.
“It’s not a complementary breakfast type situation, it is a paid facility,” he said.
Jobson said the intent is to limit service to paid guests only.
“We’re trying to stick to who is staying at the place, not additional people,” he said.
Commission member Lauren Taylor questioned the ease of enforcement.
“Between checkout and check-in, you’re going to have overlap,” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Pam Buckley echoed Miller’s sentiments regarding four additional parking spaces.
Cosby said the request could be easily accommodated in light of the 12 new spots slated in the expansion.
Esham questioned the plans to limit food service to motel guests.
“If someone comes up with money in their pocket that’s not staying there, they’re going to be turned away?” he asked. “That just seems against everything we try to do in Ocean City.”
Project architect Patrick Angell said the motel’s downtown location limited the scope of the proposed food establishment.
“We’re kind of stuck with the zoning code, because we’re not allowed with the zoning to have a full restaurant,” he said.
Esham said lodging establishments offering free continental breakfast for guests have an obvious incentive to restrict public access, but raised issue with this application.
“If you’ve got somebody walking down the street that sees there’s a place to go have breakfast, I don’t see how you’re going to turn them away,” he said.
Jobson said several methods are utilized to limit nonpaying guests on the property, including wrist bands, pool attendants and 24-hour security guards.
“We try to track how many people are on the property at all times,” he said.
Taylor said in her estimation the pool side kitchen would qualify as a private club.
“Is this area zoned for a private club, because that’s essentially what it is,” she said. “Every hotel in this city that I know of that sells food to their guests also sells food to the public.”
Hall said private clubs are allowed by special exception, but the city’s zoning code does not provide a definition.
Taylor offered further support for the private club designation.
“You’re selling in a private facility to a limited clientele,” she said. “If you’re giving it away that’s one thing, but selling is another.”
Cosby countered the argument and noted the pool house would be situated in the middle of the motel property and not roadside.
“You’re selling a product, but you’re selling a product to the patrons of that hotel,” he said.
Angell noted larger hotel chains in Ocean City typically provide free breakfast for guests.
“You’re hurting the people that have been here a long time, the small owners of the small hotels because they can’t compete,” he said.
Esham raised issue with the distinction being drawn.
“It looks like a restaurant, walks like a restaurant, talks like a restaurant, but you’re telling us you’re going to treat it like a private club,” he said.
Hall said from a zoning perspective the issue boils down to a matter of scale.
“We had very large restaurants with hotels before that were obviously out of scale,” he said. “This being no bigger than a large shed [800 square-feet] is what made me think it was clearly an accessory use.”
Buckley agreed with the accessory use designation in theory, but questioned if zoning code would permit food sales.
Hall countered the proposal would be permitted as an accessory use to the hotel.
Miller said eliminating cash sales would be an ideal accord.
“If this was charged to the room and no cash was taken, I’d be fine with that,” he said. “If you’re actually handing cash over in that space, I think you’ve crossed over into a restaurant.”
Miller said room rates could be slightly adjusted to cover food costs, which caused Taylor to question the inclusion of lunch fare.
“You’re not going to raise the rate enough to cover breakfast and lunch,” she said.
In conclusion, Jobson agreed to limit food service to breakfast and build those costs into room charges.
After the commission voted unanimously in favor of the revised plans, Hall said he would consolidate the motel’s various parcels and return for a final approval before sending the matter before the mayor and City Council.