The Board of Adjustment for the Town of Fenwick Island voted 3-1 this week to approve a height variance request made on behalf of the Fenwick Sands by property owner Spiro Buas.
The Town had received 87 letters in favor of the application and nine letters in opposition.
During the hearing, Buas requested a 6-foot encroachment into the 32-foot height restriction in Town to allow for the placement of the elevator safety overrun and mechanical features.
While Buas said he, at first, considered only remodeling the existing motel, he quickly determined it wouldn’t be a viable option. So, Buas is currently working to replace the existing building with a Tapestry Collection by Hilton hotel.
“My hopes and dreams are to make it a better property. I wanted to make sure we got a brand that the town would be happy and proud of… I cannot have a product not built to their standards,” said Buas. “They don’t want to see the maids’ cart in the same elevator that guests are going in.”
Buas said rooms at the hotel would be priced at upwards of $400 per night, “maybe north of $600 in season,” he said.
The encroachment into the Town’s height restriction hasn’t been without controversy, but “This hotel needs an elevator shaft so it can have two elevators in it,” said attorney Tim Willard, representing Buas.
Keith Fisher of Fisher Architecture, the firm designing the hotel, noted that the elevator mechanics on the 39,000-square-foot roof would cover less than 1 percent of its area.
He added that, while the shaft could be dropped within the height restriction, ramps would then have to be utilized in order for guests to enter and exit the elevators. He noted that it could be a safety concern, as hotel guests generally do not have to navigate an 18-foot ramp.
Buas said the actual roof of the property was already below the 32-foot restriction, and rooms are designed with slanted ceiling features to allow for a nicer exterior aesthetic.
Resident Jackie Napolitano, who lives behind the Sands, said she was in favor of rebuilding the motel but was not pleased with the process of approvals.
“I think the way you guys have gone about it has been pretty rough for the residents here,” she said. “We are changing an ordinance in the Town of Fenwick Island that is going to open our town up to Ocean City standards… Where does it end?
“I have a very small home,” she added. “It’s probably going to annihilate my privacy. My property has basically been denigrated.”
Warren Hayden of E. James Street said there has been a lot of aggressive behavior on social media toward those in town who are against the motel.
“We plan on retiring here. We’re talking of, the way I read this, it could go up to 38 feet… When we purchased our home, we had a view of the bay and the sunset — that will be gone,” he said. “The next time, it may be 50 feet from your house… Maybe you’ll say, ‘Hey, they were right.’”
Brian Kelly said the encroachment would negatively impact adjacent properties, noting he believes that Buas “hasn’t made any compromises.”
Mark Tingle, whose family used to own the Sands, said rebuilding the facility would be an asset to the entire town.
“What would this hurt?” he asked. “Overall, there’s no economic negatives of doing this, and that’s how we have to look at it… The Sands is a detriment to the town… I hope you all vote for it.”
The board granted a variance for an elevator shaft to not exceed 4.6 feet past the 32-foot height restriction, with a 3-1 vote.
“I feel that the most votes that were against this were from the properties that neighbor this... and I feel that needs to be taken into consideration,” said Marlene Quinn, who was the only board member to vote against the application. “I also don’t think it’s a matter of economics.”
Board members Tim Collins, Craig Anderson and Linda Bunting, who voted in favor of the application, noted they were in favor of the variance as the elevator shaft is minimally visible, it would minimally affect adjoining properties and safety concerns have been addressed. Richard Benn abstained from the discussion and vote.
“This vote does not set a precedent,” said Collins. “It’s an adjustment. It’s a one-time adjustment relative to the issue that’s in front of us… I think it is an in-balance request based on exceptional practical difficulties.”
“I am going to do a quality project. I’ve taken the time to do a quality project,” added Buas.
Buas first appealed the decision of the Town’s Building Committee, arguing that the piece of the elevator encroaching into the height restriction was mechanical in nature and not structural, and therefore not subject to the strict height limit.
However, the board had found that, because the elevator would be built into the building and would not function without the rooftop mechanics, it did not fall into the category of “mechanical equipment,” per the Town code. Thus, a variance was needed.
By Maria Counts