Planning Board still tweaking proposed hospitality zone

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OCEAN CITY — Planning Board Chairwoman Sally Jo Delussa said there is more work to be done on the board’s proposed hospitality zone ordinance.

The Planning Board, which reorganized Jan. 4, last took up the hospitality zone ordinance at its Dec. 7 meeting. The board had received a letter from the Board of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce asking for answers to questions on the proposed ordinance, Delussa explained. Wanting to gather more input, it did not vote on the ordinance that evening.

“We as a board pulled the ordinance,” Delussa said. “We responded with a letter to the president of the Board of Realtors and to the president of the Chamber of Commerce asking them for a list of their concerns, so that we could respond to them.”

Some of the concerns were listed in a Dec. 28 letter back to the Planning Board, but Delussa said the board is waiting for a complete list so they may deal with all concerns at one time.

“We hope to meet with them in a joint meeting with the Board of Realtors, with the chamber and also with the Hospitality Association … and hopefully listen to what concerns they have and be able to respond to those,” she said.

The proposed hospitality ordinance suggests combining the current “hotel-motel” and “hotel-motel 1” zones into one large zone. One of the most contentious issues to date with the hospitality zone ordinance is the proposed changes to height limits in the current “hotel motel” zone.

“That’s the portion of this that obviously has the most attention,” Delussa said.

If the Planning Board approves an ordinance, it would then go to City Council, where it would face an introduction and a public hearing before a final vote.

Delussa said the board’s commercial subcommittee began working on the ordinance two years ago, as it has been a recommendation of the city’s master plan for several years.

“We have had two major public meetings,” she said. “We have brought in Rutgers graduate students who were planning students … and we have met with the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Realtors, the Hospitality Association, the Historic Commission and sought their input during that two year process.”

She said one of the things the board learned over those meetings was that a greater than 50 foot height limit may help to make future development in that area economically viable.

The “hotel-motel zone” currently exists from north to south from Seventh to 12 streets and roughly boarders Wesley Avenue and what is called the “off-boardwalk” zone. This zone has a maximum height limit of 50 feet. The “hotel-motel 1” zone currently exists north to south from 12th to 15th streets and east to west roughly boarders Ocean Avenue and the alley just east of Wesley Avenue. This zone has a maximum height limit of 29 feet.

“What we are proposing, only in the area north of 12th and reaching to Seventh, is the possibility of two height incentives,” Delussa said.

There are two possible conditions a developer must meet in order to qualify for the height incentive. The first is, for any hotel or motel use in that area located at least 100 feet from any zone boundary, the developer may add 10 feet of height. The second is any motel or motel use at least 200 feet from any zone boundary may add an additional 10 feet, allowing for a maximum addition of 20 feet of height.

The hospitality zone south of 12th Street will maintain its 29-foot height limit.

Delussa said a reason for the 100-foot limit is that because a lot of the hotel motel zone backs up against residential properties.

“The result of that is that very few lots would be probably eligible for that additional height incentive,” she said. “We are very conscious that height is not something that most Ocean City residents are particularly happy with.”

She said that the subcommittee is still considering ways to modify those conditions to make them “more stringent.”

“Were not anywhere near passing this,” Delussa said, adding, “However, we also believe that if indeed the community as a whole decides that this is not something … that they wish to have in their community, then, indeed, we would like to see the ordinance go forward without the height.”

Delussa said she is not speaking as a member of the Planning Board, but as a member of the subcommittee.

“It is not moving forward immediately. We still need to receive a complete list from them of their concerns,” she said of the Board of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t intend to rush into anything.”

Maria Marinelli, president of the Ocean City Board of Realtors, said she commends the work of the subcommittee.

“There were really some great ideas that were presented,” she said.

She said the Realtors want to meet as a group with the Planning Board and other community organizations and “make sure that the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed.”

“The community has worked tirelessly and they’ve done a great job. From the chamber’s point of view, we want to make sure the chamber and hospitality group have their say,” said Brian Broadly, president-elect of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s an important issue to the town and we just want to do our best to get it right.”

No date has been set for a meeting between the groups at this point, Delussa said.

Other components of the hospitality ordinance include allowing for more permitted uses in the zone to include free standing parking lots, restaurants, retail sales, retail service, mixed-use buildings, and multi-family residential when it is no more than 25 percent of a mixed-use building.

“We believe they are suitable ancillary uses to the hotel motel uses,” Delussa said.

She said those uses would help to expand the area into a full-service hospitality zone.

The ordinance also permits satellite facilities and accessory uses as a conditional use within 1,200 feet of the primary facility.

Other conditional uses are also being added to the zone, specifically to aide homeowners in the area where residential dwellings are not a permitted use.

“Over many years, individual lot owners have gone before the Zoning Board for use variances for residential development within the zone,” Delussa explained. “All of those current residential uses are nonconforming.”

Homeowners in the zone must apply for a variance for certain changes to their properties. Under the proposed ordinance, current residential standards will apply as conditional uses for residential properties in the hospitality zone.

“When we started two years ago, we were committed to finishing and it may take us a little while longer to get there. We want to make sure it’s right. If indeed the height issue is the one issue the community doesn’t want to accept, than I would like to see the rest of the ordinance go forward,” Delussa said.

The next meeting of the Ocean City Planning Board is Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. The hospitality ordinance is not listed on the agenda for discussion or action.

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