Options for employee parking, desired retail tenants and valet requirements were among a series of conditions that Ocean City planning commissioners are kicking around as part of a recommendation for a massive Margaritaville resort planned for downtown.
Planning commissioners are tasked with setting requirements for a planned overlay district, or POD, which is the first of several approvals developers need to proceed with the massive project slated for the shuttered Phillips Beach Plaza property lots on 13th and 14th streets.
And minus a few sticking points, members were complimentary of the plans.
They threw around words like “outstanding,” “really professionally done,” “tremendous,” and “great,” to describe the three-hour presentation that developers made to them last week during a public hearing. But their praise was not without its criticisms.
Commissioner Lauren Taylor was one of the most critical, taking serous issue with the traffic flow plans — specifically in the area of 14th and 15th streets — lack of enough parking for such a large project, and ability to hire enough locals to successfully staff the valet parking needed to make the project work.
“It was a great presentation but it still has a lot of problems associated with it,” she said.
The plans call for a 13-story, 265-room hotel brandishing the famous Margaritaville label, 20,000 square feet of upscale retail space along the Boardwalk, three restaurants, multiple swimming pools, meeting and conference areas, and more. City staff members anticipate it will stand out significantly at the confluence of the southern, more historic buildings in southern Ocean City, and newer high rises to the north.
The project is such an anomaly in the area that developers need to place a POD zoning designation over the existing properties to allow for “unified development.”
Planning commissioners will send their finding and a recommendation, whether it’s for a yea or nay, to the mayor and council, who will make the final decision on awarding the developers the POD.
After nearly two hours of discussion, the commissioners came up with more than eight potential recommended conditions for approval of the rezoning, which they will finalize and vote on at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 23.
The conditions include ensuring that the approval is only for the specific project, requiring valet parking for all guest vehicles, setting the types of retail stores that are permitted, only granting the POD if the square footage equals 90,000 (a condition of the rezoning), and following up with the developer’s promise to offer an employee shuttle program or employee parking.
Developers said last week that the project plans include building employee housing at an off-site, walkable location, however the parking details are still fuzzy.
Several commissioners said the provision of employee parking is a moot point because other hotels and resorts in the area are not required to provide it. City code also does not allow for the requirement, but officials can make it a condition of the POD.
Commissioner Peck Miller said he understood and agreed with the notion that employee parking is not typically provided, and employees are generally on their own with it, but he also pointed out the difference in this particular project.
“We’re looking at a property that has three restaurants, for one. It has a convention center, it has a pool that’s going to be massively busy, hopefully, with a lot of people,” he said. “I mean, the property is beautiful, but I don’t think we’ve seen this type of — for lack of a better word, animal — in Ocean City ever.”
He likened the project to Seacrets, Fager’s Island and Ropewalk, which are all bayside properties with the ability to provide more parking overall.
The Margaritaville location creates a different challenge, as it is planned for a much less expansive oceanside spot, hence the need for valet parking over guests parking their own vehicles.
“I think if it was self-parking it wouldn’t work at all,” said commission Chairwoman Pam Buckley. “We’d just be way too cumbersome of driving situations, people coming in and not knowing the area,”
One other issue is a dispute over a 16-foot, city-owned alley known as Washington Lane that bisects the site. The developer plans to incorporate the space into the design of the complex, replacing it with a 23-foot public easement with two travel lanes and one bicycle lane.
The alley is needed to meet the square footage requirement for the POD and city council members have to vote to abandon it. They are set to vote on it at a meeting set for Nov. 30.
According to a staff report, city employees recommend that council members give the green light to discuss and vote on the alley abandonment at a future meeting. The report said the city “has no direct need” for the right-of-way for utilities, and that the creation of a wider public easement “would improve the alley’s primary function as a public way.”
Planning commissioners voted to draft a letter saying basically the same thing on Tuesday. The letter states that the commissioners recommend the alley remain public, and that the developer retains air rights to build over it, but that they must keep the driveway tall enough to allow for fire and emergency trucks to pass through.
The developer’s plans for the alley impressed planning commissioners, who had some reservations about abandoning it when they first learned about the request several months ago.
“My biggest concern was the alley way,” Commissioner Joel Brous said. “I think they literally doubled it in size and width and I think it looks really attractive.”
The planning commissioners also agreed to approve the recommendation for the POD at the Nov. 23 hearing contingent upon the mayor and council’s approval of the alley way plans, as members will vote on it after they meet.
Hotel management company Chesapeake Hospitality and Margaritaville Holdings are partnering to run the new venture.
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