Developer Jack Burbage unveiled a vision of the future Bethany Beach Ocean Suites hotel at the town council meeting on Friday, May 23, and he asked the council to help him make that vision a reality with some accommodations on occupancy, sidewalk costs and permit fees.
At the meeting, Burbage offered two freshly minted conceptual drawings of the hotel that he plans to replace the former Bethany Arms Motel, which was recently torn down to make way for the envisioned flagship oceanfront hotel.
The first drawing depicted a suite-style two-bed hotel room, with coastal-themed decorative touches including a coral-patterned rug and wave-patterned lamp, as well as an eating area, sofa and chair, and balcony-style doors and tall windows.
The second shows what the hotel’s lobby could look like, with clusters of upholstered chairs and sofas, beadboard wainscoting, plentiful windows featuring white trim, a brick fireplace accented with jellyfish adornments, coffered ceiling and historic black-and-white photographs.
In addressing the council, Burbage first offered his thanks to the mayor, town council, town manager and property owners “for your support of our beautiful hotel.” He then went on to describe some “challenging opportunities we have” in regards to bringing the project to life.
Burbage first took on the issue of the 460-person capacity the Town has established for the facility, based on the parking that is planned to be available there.
“That’s a solid number to which we all agree,” he noted, before asking the council to consider using a daily head count to determine whether the hotel is meeting or exceeding that capacity, as opposed to a “heads-in-the-beds count.”
Burbage expressed concern that the Marriott corporate requirement for its Residence Inn brand hotels to have pull-out sofas in each suite could result in limiting the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites’ ability to rent a room to some customers if the “heads-in-the-beds” count were to include the sofas’ capacities.
He said Marriott feels the lack of the pull-out sofas would be a detriment to guest satisfaction scores in the hotel’s market, particularly as families traveling with children look for the sofas when deciding where to book a room. Amidst the inch-thick manuals for specifications for Residence Inn rooms and hotel lobbies, he said, the sofas are just one of the requirements, which include corporate approval of minutiae as detailed as lamp base styles.
If the Ocean Suites is to follow that requirement for the pull-out sofas, he said, it could result in a situation in which the hotel could fill all of its oceanfront rooms — which would have room for six people in the two queen beds and sleeper sofa — but only have two people sleeping in a given room.
Were the demand for oceanfront rooms to bring the hotel close to the 460-person capacity by virtue of how many people could sleep there — but not necessarily how many planned to — Burbage said, they could be forced to turn away a family of six, just because the rooms off the oceanfront have a capacity of four people.
With that in mind, Burbage asked the council to reconsider how the 460-person capacity would be counted, offering to have the hotel management company provide an actual per-day head count of guests to the Town, as frequently as desired, to prove it is complying with the limitation. The management company, he said, is highly regarded by Marriot and “could not allow anything foolish to happen” in regards to the honesty of the head count, “or they could lose their agreement with Marriot.”
Burbage noted that the hotel will already have to prepare a daily count of how many people (adults, children and infants) are in the hotel, as it will offer free breakfast and has to be able to accommodate actual hotel occupancy for breakfast service.
Without the ability to look at numbers other than the bed capacity including sleeper sofas, Burbage said, the hotel’s room availability would be unnecessarily limited and potentially hurt its viability. On the other hand, if forced to eliminate the pull-out sofas to meet the Town’s stated capacity limit for the hotel, he added, the hotel couldn’t be a Marriott- or Hilton-branded facility.
“Otherwise, we’d be looking at a La Quinta or someone else who would allow us to have it,” he said of sofa-less rooms.
Councilman Lew Killmer asked what enforcement options the Town might have if the hotel exceeded the 460-person limit.
“It won’t,” Burbage replied firmly of potential occupancy excesses. “You could fine us $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000, because it won’t happen. There isn’t enough money in the world for Marriott not to meet what they’ve agreed to.”
Councilwoman Margaret Young remained skeptical.
“I have a lot of trouble believing that you would not rent” between 20 and 35 rooms, she calculated, “because you’re up to 460.”
“A lot of these rooms will have just two people in them,” Burbage reiterated, leading Mayor Jack Gordon to express concerns that the presentation from Burbage was becoming a discussion or debate with council members, which the town solicitor and town manager said that, due to notice requirements, would have to be something placed on an agenda for a future meeting.
Burbage said the hotel could provide the Town with a daily head count on the following day or when the occupancy reached a certain number. Both companies, he said, “are truly professional people, and if they have a mandate to go by, they’re not going to exceed it. It’s just not worth it.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman also asked whether the hotel would continue to accept reservations once it reserved rooms for 460 people, and Burbage said they would not.
The second challenge Burbage said he hoped the Town would help him with involves sidewalks around the facility.
“I realize there are many ways you can determine the costs, but I’m asking, because of the costs being so great, if you would consider splitting them 50/50,” he told the council.
Finally, Burbage also asked the council to reconsider the permit fees it has established for the CL-1 Commercial Lodging district, citing the permit fees alone for the Ocean Suites as potentially exceeding $345,000. He noted that his recently completed Residence Inn in Chincoteague, Va., had permit fees of $13,613.26 for its 92 rooms, all of which are suites.
“This project will be not quite twice as expensive to build,” he said, adding that a comparable permit fee for the Bethany project, as determined by cost of construction, would be $26,000.
He suggested the Town look at assessing a permit fee of 3 percent on the first $4 million of construction cost, 2 percent on the next $4 million and 1 percent on any remaining cost, resulting in roughly $265,000 in permit fees for the Ocean Suites project.
“When these fees were established, no one ever thought a multi-million-dollar project would be talked about,” he said. “You can only spend so much on a project and be profitable,” he added. “The money has to come from somewhere.”
Additionally, Burbage asked the Town to consider allowing developers to establish a payment plan for the fees. “That’s a lot of money to pay,” he said, “for a review of the plans,” among other permitting functions performed by the Town. He had suggested a four-year payment plan, depending on what the total cost might be.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the town solicitor could draft an agreement to that effect if the town council wanted to consider the idea and the Town would pass any draft along to Burbage to see if it was also acceptable to him.
“Whatever your decisions, I appreciate all your help, and I look forward to sharing a beautiful hotel that we’ll all be very proud of, in our special one-of-a-kind town,” Burbage concluded.
June 20 hearing set on
Dealing with a separate but related issue, the council at their May 23 meeting also voted unanimously to give notice to property owners that the Town is proposing to construct new curbs, sidewalks and more in the ocean block of Hollywood Street, alongside the hotel.
The town charter requires it to schedule a public hearing when considering laying or installing of new sidewalks, curbs or gutters or maintenance of existing ones. With their vote, the council formally set the public hearing on the Hollywood Street project for 1 p.m. on June 20, at which time the council can deal with issues such as costs and who will bear those costs, estimated at roughly $75,000 to $100,000.
Graviet said the project would also involve moving the Town’s old testing wells located near the beach bulkhead. He noted that there are at least two potential designs for the sidewalks, streets and parking areas, impacted by the zero-setback element of the Town’s commercial zoning.
He explained that the new CL-1 zoning on the larger northern parcel for the Ocean Suites made the setbacks for the building a null, as was already the case with the Bethany Arms and commercial properties in the C-1 commercial zone. When the southern parcel was also rezoned to CL-1, that property also received a zero setback.
However, he added, the Office of the State Fire Marshal requires a 15-foot open area, as much as possible, in front of any buildings, so that fire companies can access buildings with their equipment.
“They usually hang fairly tough with that,” Graviet added. “And most of the time the 15-foot setback is borne by the property owner, and the Town works to optimize parking, especially on the ocean-side streets where parking is at a premium.”
Graviet said the Town’s architect had come back with a concept that would provide at least a dozen parking spaces on the “very busy and very narrow street,” with a wide driveway opening on the south side of the street and a 20-foot opening on the north side (the maximum allowed by the Town).
Under Burbage’s alternative proposal, Graviet explained, there are still a dozen parking spaces, but “no setbacks of any consequence,” with sidewalks on the north and south sides of the street on Town property. He said Burbage’s proposal was designed so the street would absorb the setbacks so that the required interior parking spaces needed to meet the hotel’s parking requirement were possible.
“Without that, it brings the room count down to a point where,” he said, Burbage asserted the hotel project was “no longer viable — hence the need to build up to the setbacks” and the need to accommodate the 15-foot setbacks in the Town-owned area.
Graviet said the June 20 public hearing will include a number of additional renditions of the possible street design, as well as an opportunity to discuss what the Town wants to do at the street end adjacent to the boardwalk.
Both the Town’s and Burbage’s concepts, he said, were, as yet, “very preliminary” in terms of what the landscape engineer might recommend, and the issue of who will bear the expense of the new sidewalks will also be discussed. Rising to $100,000, the cost of the walks would include “significant paver work,” he noted.
Graviet said the council could determine at the June 20 hearing or a subsequent meeting whether they want to proceed with the project.