Bethany approves signage for Ocean Suites hotel

More than a dozen signs spread across the two buildings of the new Bethany Beach Ocean Suites hotel on the town’s boardwalk were up for approval at the Non-Residential Design Review Committee (DRC) meeting on Feb. 13. Some of the signs were reviewed extensively and garnered suggestions for change from the committee, while others were approved with minimal discussion ahead of the hotel’s anticipated opening before the start of the 2015 summer season.

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer, chairman of the DRC, noted that the Town’s Planning Commission, which he also chairs, had been provided with an idea of what sorts of signage would be used for the hotel when it developed the code for signage in the new CL-1 Commercial Lodging district last year — a step that was needed, as the Town didn’t previously have any signage code for the CL-1 district.

“That made it a lot easier to deal with it, because if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have a guide about how to move forward,” Killmer said of the ideas presented to the commissioners, calling it “very helpful.”

With the code now in place for the CL-1 district, it was for the DRC to review the actual proposed signage for the hotel, which included 10 wall signs, two projecting signs and a hanging sign. DRC member Jim Weisgerber recused himself from the vote, citing his status as a tenant of hotel developer Jack Burbage, among other business relationships. Burbage and architect Jeff Schoellkopf presented drawings of the proposed signage and answered committee members’ questions.

The first sign on the docket was the hotel’s primary wall sign, which will be placed on the gable on the north side of the primary, northern hotel building, visible from Garfield Parkway. The sign meets all requirements of the new CL-1 signage code, at 156 square feet, internally lit and yellow in color.

“We looked at other communities that have hotels, and we saw that the initial request was well within the guidelines of other towns,” Killmer said, noting that neither the sign’s size, nor the lighting nor the lettering to be used were at issue. “I think it is quite attractive,” he added.

Architect and DRC member John Hendrickson agreed, calling the sign “an enhancement to that wall.”

Killmer asked whether the intention was to have the sign be illuminated 24 hours a day. Burbage said he imagined it would be put on a timer. Building Inspector Susan Frederick noted that it doesn’t directly face residential property, and Schoellkopf said that was intentional. The committee approved the sign unanimously, absent Weisgerber.

Next on the list was a blade sign — a two-sided sign with 49 square feet of space on each side — that will be brown with gold lettering (the color scheme of much of the hotel’s signage) and hang 9 feet above the sidewalk and 2 feet off a column on the Atlantic Avenue side of the building, out to a point about 9 feet from the column, about 3 feet from the Town’s right-of-way.

Committee members noted a potential discrepancy in terminology between the application and the code, which refers to such as sign as a “projecting sign.” Frederick said projecting signs are limited to two per building, with a maximum of 64 square feet per side, while blade signs are limited to 12 square feet.

Schoellkopf noted that the sign is partly tucked under the building and would be further surrounded by nearby decks that project 3 to 4 feet out. It will be fixed and won’t swing. He said the intention was for the sign to be visible from a block south, as people would drive up to the hotel. While it does face into the residential area, he said, “It’s intended to be a classy, carved-letter, gold-leaf kind of sign.”

Hendrickson noted potential problems with discussions of lighting in the future, as the increasingly common LED lighting doesn’t necessarily directly convert to the watts and lumens that are still commonly used in code. Schoellkopf said the lighting in this case was being provided by the signage company and that information on it could be provided when they receive it from the sign company.

The committee approved the sign unanimously, with Weisgerber having recused himself from the entire application.

The signage for the hotel’s reception area, located in the arch by its driveway entrance on Hollywood Street, will again use the brown-and-yellow/gold color scheme and will not be illuminated. The committee also approved it on a 4-0 vote.

The committee likewise approved a sign intended to convey the height restriction for the hotel’s garage, which is 7 feet — with an additional 3 feet of height in the hotel’s port cochère, where guests can disembark to enter the hotel and then exit back onto Atlantic Avenue.

However, later in the meeting, committee members suggested that the sign be combined with a wall sign intended to convey that garage parking is only for hotel guests, and Burbage and Schoellkopf both said they would do that, changing from a second sign to expanding the headroom sign instead. The committee approved the resulting sign to be up to 2 feet high and 15 feet long, though Schoellkopf said it would likely be smaller.

The sign’s proposed wording, “Parking by Permit Only,” was also suggested to be changed to “Guest Parking Only,” to help ensure that people don’t think a town parking permit will authorize them to park in the garage.

The committee on Feb. 13 also noted that a number of the signs were already permitted, including directional signs inside the garage area, and did not require approval from the DRC.

A sign adjacent to the driveway near Atlantic Avenue will say “Exit Only,” to prevent traffic from trying to navigate the narrow driveway in both directions. The driveway itself is only one lane wide, with additional room for disembarkation but not for two cars to pass. The 2-foot-square sign will be placed on poles set in concrete, to better ensure it is seen by drivers. It, too, was approved 4-0.

The main sign on the Hollywood Street side will be a flat, wall-mounted sign in the gable there, with gooseneck lamps for illumination. It was also approved unanimously.

Two-sided signs pose complication for plan

The group discovered a problem when they addressed a second projecting/blade sign planned for the boardwalk side of the hotel. The sign was to have been a smaller version of the projecting sign approved on Atlantic, but Frederick noted that the code limits projecting signs to two per building, and the two-sided sign on Atlantic counted as two signs on its own.

Killmer emphasized that the DRC had already had cases when that restriction had prevented applicants from getting the signage they had originally wanted, setting a precedent that made it an unlikely case for a variance.

Hendrickson suggested a change in the type of sign, to one that wouldn’t exceed the limits, and Frederick noted that they could place wall signs on each side of the corner of the building, but they would not be visible for those coming from the north along the boardwalk.

“We only have one hotel in town,” she said. “People will know this building.”

But Schoellkopf and Burbage said they really wanted to retain the visibility from the boardwalk, initially suggesting a change to a hanging sign instead of a projecting sign.

They then suggested changing the just-approved hanging signage planned for the tentatively- (and perhaps eponymously-named) Jack Spot restaurant to reflect the hotel’s name, with the restaurant sign to be relocated. The 30-square-foot sign at the entrance to the restaurant from the beach and boardwalk was designed to fit the gable there, rather than being square, they noted.

But Hendrickson said he thought that, as a businessperson, they would want to make an effort to bring people in from the boardwalk to the restaurant. “I think the hotel recognition happens from the front seat of the car,” he added.

Schoellkopf then noted that they were permitted up to five additional projecting signs of up to 12 square feet each (with each side of a two-sided sign counted separately) and said they could go with a smaller, 3-by-4-foot projecting sign on the boardwalk, which could be used either for the restaurant or the hotel. Burbage said he’d like the smaller sign to be for the hotel.

“It gives you the identification you wanted, where you wanted it, just smaller,” he told Burbage.

The change netted a 4-0 vote for approval of the smaller sign. The committee also unanimously approved signage to indicate the location of showers for hotel guests coming off the beach.

Killmer noted at the conclusion of the hotel-related votes that the hotel will indeed carry the Residence Inn branding, with a 6-foot bronze wall sign over its main door. The customized version of the brand is one of only two approved by Marriott in the country, Burbage said.

As construction on the hotel continues, Killmer stated that remaining to be approved by the DRC are its landscaping and lighting. Schoellkopf gave a brief overview of those plans for committee members’ information, noting plans to use a “hockey puck” style of lighting in the parking area to avoid glare and enhance durability, and down-lighting on the columns at the sidewalk and inside the port cochère, as well as the emergency lighting at the exit doors. Lighting will also be embedded in the risers for the steps, and lighting with a nautical theme will be used on the balconies and on the pool deck.

Of the landscaping plan, Schoellkopf noted that the zero-lot-line configuration of the commercial and CL-1 districts didn’t allow for much, but that plans called for three beds, at the front exit on Atlantic and on Hollywood Street in front of each building.

Screening will be used on a transformer, with the rest being “very simple and straight-forward,” and using plants tolerant of the seaside environment — “probably just Knockout roses” and beach grass, with a tan stone mulch, he said.

The lighting and landscaping plans could come back before the DRC in late February or early March.

Black Pearl and tanning business setting up shop

Also on Feb. 13, the DRC approved signage for new tenants in the Blue Surf complex on the boardwalk, Bill Fox and his wife, who will run their two businesses — the Black Pearl Designated Driver Service and Beach Belle Tiki & Tanning, respectively, out of a single storefront. Fox requested two hanging signs — one for each business — to make up the permitted 12 square feet of signage.

Killmer suggested the signage be handled separately, first dealing with Beach Belle’s carved wooden signage, which will take up the larger portion permitted signage, at the same size as existing signage in the complex.

Fox said his wife’s business would be a tanning salon offering spray-tanning and three tanning beds, as well as a UV-protectant spray tan service with 30 to 50 SPF that has now been approved by the FDA. In addition, he said, she will offer foot baths and an infrared sauna for body detox, as well as selling related items.

The DRC approved the Beach Belle signage on a 5-0 vote.

Fox described his business’ presence in the location as “like a little taxi stand, almost,” noting that it is a family-run business and endeavors to serve a need with its pirate-ship-themed buses.

“At closing times on weekends, you need to get people out of Bethany,” he emphasized. “They call cabs, and no one shows up.” Fox said that, with his current base near Dagsboro, he felt a presence in Bethany would be a good thing.

“I’ve got all the breweries and wineries, the bars and restaurants in Bethany, Fenwick Island, Dewey … they do a little advertising on the buses, and if one of their customers calls, I give them the discounted rate to get them home,” he said, noting the support of local police for the service, as well as his certification as a public carrier, offering tours, as well as being a designated driver.

The distinctive buses and their pirate theme were the first subject the DRC members wanted to discuss, with Killmer expressing concerns about whether the skull-and-swords logo design that would be on the requested sign would fit with the character of the town, as well as whether the presence and prominent display of the Black Pearl’s phone number and website address were appropriate.

Fox explained that the latter was by necessity.

“When you get approved as a public carrier, people cannot wave you down; they must call,” he explained.

Frederick pointed out that, typically, a sign is put up to advertise a business in its actual location. “This seems to be more for people to Google it and call, not come in,” she said. “The biggest thing on it is the website.”

Fox said that was also intentional. “Almost everybody has an iPhone, and [the website] is the first thing they’re going to go to. Most people go there and then call or email to have it booked. … Where the sign is is the position where the office is located,” he added, noting that he couldn’t park his buses downtown without a physical location there without risking losing his carrier’s license or being fined, for a practice known as “posturing.”

That caught Frederick’s attention. “When we talked, the buses weren’t going to be here,” she reminded Fox.

“They’re not going to be parked here, but will be here a lot,” he replied, adding that parking officials had told him he could even buy a platinum parking pass and park a bus there.

That might be true of a vehicle in general, Frederick said, “But you can’t have advertising on the vehicle. ... You can’t park it here or in front of the store with advertising on it,” she reiterated, noting that the Town has already required vehicles with advertising for a mattress store and restaurants to be moved.

“You can drop off and pick up. You just can’t park here,” Killmer later explained.

Back to the original subject, Frederick said she felt the concern with the signage was that the business name needed to be bigger so people could see it and stop in to get a card for later reference. “The biggest thing on here is the website address.” Hendrickson agreed, saying the emphasis of the sign should be on the “designated driver services” part of the name.

However, Fox said again that his emphasis on the contact information was necessary. “They can’t just walk in and ask for ride right then,” he said of the carrier regulations. “They will walk out [of a restaurant] and see the contact information,” he explained about the concept of the sign.

Addressing the concerns about the skull-and-swords symbol on the sign, Fox again pointed to public carrier regulations.

“Anything I have in print has to be approved by the public carriers office. If the business card has it on there, it has to be on all the documents and can’t be changed,” he said. He confirmed that there was no concern about the trademark on The Black Pearl, despite the films’ use of that name.

“I own ‘The Black Pearl Designated Driver Services’ in Delaware,” he emphasized. “I don’t have to have it,” he said of the skull symbol, “but considering all my buses are pirate ships on wheels, I would like to have it,” he told the committee members.

Killmer confirmed that the Town has the right to restrict what images can appear on signage, but Fox argued that the area’s own history makes the pirate theme appropriate.

“Lewes south to Fenwick was the most pirated area in the world during the pirate era. It is a part of the history of the area.”

“I don’t think a pirate reference at the beach is inappropriate,” Weisgerber put in.

Hendrickson pointed to the oft-touted family nature of the town. “The skull-and-crossbones is not Santa Claus,” he added.

“Kids love pirates,” Fox replied.

DRC members acknowledged the need to maintain control over such images, saying they wanted to prevent future signage that might show an image of a nude woman, for example, but also agreed that the pirate-themed mini-golf business located downtown had set a precedent.

“It is a slippery slope, but I don’t think this is anywhere near it,” Weisgerber said.

The DRC voted to give the Black Pearl sign conditional approval, with a revised design emphasizing the business name and not its contact information, to come to Frederick for her approval.

Penguin Diner to get facelift and more

The third application before the DRC on Feb. 13 was for some big changes at the Penguin Diner at 105 Garfield Parkway. Architect Scott Edmonson brought the plans for a façade removal and second-floor addition to the restaurant on behalf of owner Mark Neumann, asking for the DRC’s approval of the exterior renovations.

Edmonson said the restaurant’s owners had found that, “People will eat breakfast at a dinner restaurant, but they won’t eat dinner at a breakfast restaurant,” suggesting that they retool part of the location (the second floor) to be “a little more sophisticated — more of a restaurant, less of a diner.”

The renovations would create additional space for outdoor seating, expand seating overall and add space to the business. “We hope to put together an addition that will fit with the town,” he noted, referencing planned changes to the façade, exterior colors and awnings, focusing on white painted surfaces and “a traditional beachy feel.”

DRC members said their chief concern with the plans was a faux façade at the roofline, which Killmer said “looks like a Hollywood set” and raised issues with a section of flat roof behind it. Hendrickson suggested they run the gable roof all the way to the back of the building, eliminating the problem, which Edmonson said had resulted from owners’ concerns about additional cost but might actually prove to be less expensive if the roof was extended.

Hendrickson said that, with such a change, “I like it. I think it looks nice.”

“The front view is beautiful,” Killmer agreed. “It will be a nice addition to the town.”

The planned outdoor seating area would have garage-style glass doors that could enclose it during inclement weather, Edmonson noted.

Committee members praised the lighting design but asked that the owners confirm that the awnings would be made of durable materials that can withstand the elements at the beach.

Killmer inquired about the placement of trash receptacles behind the restaurant and the impact of the expansion on that, but Edmonson said the changes included relocating two walk-in freezers closer to the building and moving electrical boxes, which would allow the trash containers to be kept there.

“I like the choice of colors,” Killmer added. “It looks very beachy, very Bethany Beach. The overall design is quite attractive.”

Edmonson said the project was scheduled to start with some work on the first-floor interior prior to the summer season and the expansion of the second floor in the fall.

Frederick also noted a requirement to flood-proof the restaurant’s front doors since such an extensive redesign is being done.

“This is the kind of upgrades that we’re all hoping for in downtown Bethany Beach,” Killmer concluded. “You’re taking a pretty basic building, a box, and giving it some architectural diversity.”

The committee voted 5-0 to approve the desired changes, with the proviso that the awning materials be weather-appropriate.