04/08/2021 | Margaritaville Resort planned for the Old Phillips Beach Plaza property; Planners approve the means of transportation in the aisles
OCEAN CITY – An entire city center block could turn into a large hotel, conference center, and restaurant and retail complex after resort planners tacitly approved concept plans this week.
Last week, the new owners of the iconic Phillips Beach Plaza property came before the mayor and council to seek conceptual approval for the transmission of an alleyway that cuts the property between 13e and 14e Promenade streets at Baltimore Avenue, a request elected officials have accepted pending what will likely become a lengthy, multi-tiered approval process. On Tuesday, developers presented concept plans to bring a major hotel, conference center, restaurant and bar to Margaritaville and a shopping complex in the city block between 13e and 14e Streets of the promenade at Baltimore Avenue.
On Tuesday, the developers presented draft plans to the Ocean City Planning Commission to assess the organization’s general feelings about the project. Again, the project is still in its early stages in the approval process and there are many details to work out including issues with on-site parking and the layout of the city-owned driveway, essentially Washington Lane. The commission initially expressed some concerns about the amount of on-site parking for the large project, as well as concerns about maintaining public access to the lane, but overall the commission approved of the plan in such a way. conceptual.
Local attorney Hugh Cropper said the intention on Tuesday was essentially to assess the committee’s general feelings and concerns about the proposed project before making a formal presentation.
“The developers have decided to present this plan to you and collect your ideas before making a formal submission,” he said. “In an early informal part of the process, they appeared before the mayor and council to discuss a sale, abandonment or other means of acquiring the lane. Conceptually, the mayor and council have approved this, which will allow us to move forward.
The proposed Margaritaville project includes approximately 265 motel rooms, conference and convention space, restaurants and bars, indoor and outdoor pools, and high-end retail along the boardwalk. Cropper said the intention on Tuesday was simply to assess the potential concerns of the planning commission as the project moves from conceptual presentation to formal presentation.
The project would require approval from the Planned Overlay District (POD) to be carried out as planned. A POD requires at least 90,000 square feet and the current site is approximately 85,000 square feet. If the section of Washington Lane that cuts the property in half were transferred to the developer and returned to the city as a public easement, it would meet the 90,000 square foot minimum for a POD.
Once again, the mayor and council agreed last week to cede the lane to the developer if it is kept as a public right-of-way for vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Cropper said the intention on Wednesday was to gauge the commission’s interest in moving forward with the project.
“At the end of the day, we’re just looking for what you think about the project,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity. There aren’t many stacked neighborhoods planned in Ocean City. This is the opportunity to take a whole block and use a holistic master plan with great features. “
Former zoning administrator Blaine Smith, who oversaw numerous redevelopment projects over the years before retiring, was retained as a consultant for the Margaritaville project. He said the new owners carefully designed the proposed project.
“They have been working on this project for over a year and we are about to prepare an official presentation,” he said. “The master plan calls for the creation of projects like this to make Ocean City a destination point. We believe that a project like this will meet many of the objectives of the master plan to stimulate economic development and help tourism in general. It’s our industry.
Smith said the proposed Margaritaville project represents a significant upgrade for the entire city block.
“The Beach Plaza has a lot of history, but we have the opportunity to really use this block where it is currently somewhat underused,” he said. “There is an opportunity to really create something interesting with it. The developer wants to bring an upscale hotel to Ocean City. We believe that this project will achieve the objectives of the master plan without increasing the infrastructure. It’s a good balance for the neighborhood.
Smith said the Margaritaville hotel and conference center complex could help attract a different clientele to the downtown area.
“We think this will all be very positive,” he said. “It will improve the experience for people when they come to Ocean City. We believe that what we’re doing here will complement efforts to attract the kind of clientele to Ocean City that will make a difference. “
Planning Commissioner Peck Miller praised the project’s concept plans, but expressed some concerns about the potential impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
“It’s a great project,” he says. “I think it’s going to be great for Ocean City. This is a major change in usage. It’s a much more intense project than before.
Project architect Jack Mumford pointed to the decades-long redevelopment of the Baltimore Avenue corridor, known by many as an old row of hotels for decades, and said the Margaritaville project represents a continuation of that development.
“Twenty years ago it wasn’t the nicest part of town,” he says. “With the city’s investment in Baltimore Avenue along the way, real estate has improved dramatically. If we want Baltimore Avenue to improve from North Division to 15e Street is the type of project we need. This project, along with others, will allow the city to help pay the deposit for infrastructure improvements.
Mumford was referring to the city’s plan for major improvements along Baltimore Avenue from North Division Street to 15e Street. Funding is in place for a major corridor redesign study with long-term plans to widen sidewalks, underground utilities and more.
Members of the Planning Commission discussed the amount of on-site parking available as part of the concept plan as well as concerns about transferring ownership of the existing driveway to the developer as well as other issues. Overall though, they supported the concept.
“It appears we have concerns about the lane and the impact of the tunnel and it needs to remain accessible,” Planning Commission chair Pam Buckley said. “We also have concerns about parking. Anytime we kick off a big project and redevelop such a big site in Ocean City, these are things we need to take a close look at. It’s a great project. That’s wonderful. It must be a balancing act. This is what we will have to be convinced of.
Buckley said that during the lengthy approval process, concessions would likely have to be made on both sides.
“You have heard our concerns,” she said. “If you can address them a little more, we can move forward. Always keep in mind that we need to balance the give and take. What you get from the city and what the city gets from this site development is the balance that we have to work with.