Bethany Beach hotel design vote up for approval vote on Dec. 13

A final exterior design for the proposed Bethany Beach Hotel is taking shape as developers work to obtain approval from the Town’s Non-Residential Design Review Committee (DRC), which could come as soon as Dec. 13.

At their meeting on Dec. 6, the DRC indicated informally their approval of the revised plan for the hotel’s exterior, which has undergone several changes since initially presented earlier this fall, in an effort to address concerns expressed by committee members and citizens.

In the end, the DRC opted, however, not to take a formal vote on approval at last week’s meeting, having been questioned over whether their intent to vote was sufficiently clear in the meeting’s published agenda.

Resident Tracy Mulligan told DRC members at last Friday’s meeting that he had noticed that the agenda for the meeting hadn’t included the word “vote.” He said that, though the DRC members may have understood that there was to be a vote that day — as the agenda included the hotel under Old Business, and previous discussion and existing procedure was known to be leading to a vote — others in the community might not have understood that.

Mayor Tony McClenny agreed, encouraging the DRC to play it safe and consider not taking a vote on Dec. 6. He said he felt the voting should probably have been on the agenda, for the edification of the general public, “who may not be as clear and up-to-date as our committee members.” He added that he didn’t think a short delay would hurt the project and recommended that the DRC reconvene on Dec. 13, after advertising an agenda that specified a vote.

The DRC agreed to do just that, with the meeting set for 2 p.m. on Dec. 13, expected to include only voting.

Notably, the DRC approval process applies only to the exterior of the hotel. It’s one of several steps in what DRC Chairman and Councilman Lew Killmer described as “a big, long process.” He noted that additional approvals would be needed from the town building inspector, state agencies and more before the construction of the new oceanfront hotel can get under way.

Specifically, issues regarding parking garage lighting, signage and landscaping plans may come back before the DRC in the future before final approval for those aspects. The DRC members also wanted to see a resolution to concerns about the hotel’s trash area, which neighbors said they felt would be too visible from their upper decks.

Trash area gets scrutiny from neighbors

Gilbert and Mary Lou Tietz said they were concerned about the planned screening for the trash container area and whether it would screen the trash area from their view from across the street. The new location is about 5 feet closer to their home than the area was at the Bethany Arms Motel the project will replace.

“Why can’t it all be solid?” Gilbert Tietz asked. “I look right out on it from my porch.”

Architect Jeff Schoellkopf said he thought he’d have to put a roof on the area to accomplish the degree of screening the Teitz family wanted.

“Then put a roof on it,” Gilbert Tietz replied. “I don’t want to be looking into a place that has Dumpsters in it.”

Schoellkopf said he didn’t think a rollaway door could be used because of the arrangement of the structure there, and he said a roof over the area would have an increased risk of being torn off or damaged when the trash containers were lifted overhead to be dumped.

“We could put some kind of lattice or screen on top,” he said, noting that the container is 5 feet tall, while the screening goes another 2 or 3 feet higher. The sliding gate, he said, is 8 feet high. “I thought we were screening it well by putting it at 8 feet.”

Schoellkopf had entered last Friday’s meeting stating, “I’m hoping this can come to a vote today,” but the discussion of the trash area threatened to scuttle Schoellkopf’s hoped-for approval on Dec. 6, as committee members suggested he visit the Tietzes’ property to see exactly what the family would be seeing, perhaps that afternoon, in an effort for “everybody to get what they want.”

Having earlier expressed that, “It’s a wish of ours to move this along and keep it on track. We hope the project can begin this winter,” Schoellkopf said he would be happy to make final approval of that aspect of the design pending resolution of the issue. But developer John Burbage questioned why the additional accommodation was needed when the existing trash area was so close to the same location. “If the Blue Surf’s doesn’t have a top, why should this one?” he asked.

“We just don’t want to see it,” Gilbert Tietz replied.

Developer Jack Burbage said he would prefer to build the area as represented in the design already presented and then, when it is complete, take a look at and address specific needs.

“It’s hard to see what it is going to look like,” he said, expressing empathy with the Tietzes and saying they would try to resolve the family’s needs but would prefer to build the area first and then make what fixes are needed, lest they build it from the start and then have to tear it apart to really fix it once it was already done. “Why not wait?” he asked.

But the committee encouraged them to visit the Tietes’ home soon to determine what kind of fix might be needed.

McClenny on Dec. 6 also asked about provisions for trash pickup, questioning whether the trash truck would need to block the right traffic lane when it was picking up the trash there. Schoellkopf said the existing lane at the Blue Surf was marked off as a fire lane and it would also be marked for the new hotel.

The trash truck, he said, can pull up on the side of the road, in line with what is now a parking lane and also out of the traffic lane. The sliding door would then be moved aside so the container can be pulled out to access it for pickup.

“They’re going to want to pull up as close to the sidewalk as possible,” he said, noting that the traffic lane is about 12 feet from the edge of the sidewalk.

Committee members had also asked Schoellkopf to include an interior access from the hotel to the trash area, to avoid employees having to come out on the sidewalk to dump rash. He said a door could be added to make that workable. DRC members asked that trash pickup be daily, though Schoellkopf said Burbage’s similar facility needs it at least every two to four days.

Porte cochère designed

to be open and inviting

Mary Lou Tietz said she was also concerned about an open space near the parking garage exit, specifically that she didn’t want to be looking into the parking area.

“Hotels try to keep as open a feel as possible near the entrance, so someone can tell they’re not driving into a closed parking garage,” Schoellkopf explained. “It’s hard to screen it in a way to make it look inviting to the public. We’re trying to make it like a wonderful porte cochère that has a wood ceiling, … stamped concrete pavers, potted plants, a seating area, … to try to make it not look like a parking garage.

“If it was screened more, that would make it look more like a closed parking garage,” he said.

Schoellkopf said the area only included parking for six vehicles, including handicapped-accessible spots to be used for guest drop-off, with the bulk of the parking blocked by the rest of the garage and located farther away. “It’s not a whole lot different from looking down at the parking lot that’s there now,” he argued.

Schoellkopf noted that, other than those issues, the plan for the project was essentially unchanged from prior discussions, with the same number of rooms and maximum guests allowed, the same number of parking spaces, the size of the building unchanged and nothing significant changed in terms of the exterior of the building.

The only notable exterior changes had been relocation of a transformer that is to be moved farther down the street and adjustment of the landscaping plan to account for that and screening.

He said there had been no changes to the proposed exterior lighting plan. They had looked closely at the light levels and light spill from the porte cochère and were convinced, he said, that the light was soft to the neighbors while meeting a need for the area to be well lit. Use of downlighting will be extensive.

Killmer asked if the developers would be amenable to changes if there were problems reported with the lighting scheme. Jack Burbage said they would be amenable, “but not so amenable as to turn it down so low that women and children are being put at risk.” He said they were trying to ensure that as little light as possible was washing outside the footprint.

Schoellkopf emphasized that the scale of the lighting was not that of gas station canopies, which can cast 30 foot-candles of light, as opposed to as little as 2 to 15 foot-candles at the hotel. “We’re not talking here about lighting it up like at a gas pump,” he said.

Schoellkopf said they were continuing to look into systems for the skylights and folding walls for the hotel’s pool area, with only a minor change made to that part of the exterior plan. He said that, regardless of the design finally chosen for that area, they were looking for a wall that opens up to the outside and a roof that, they hoped, would also open up. “But it will be skylit,” he said.

The area is about 12 feet back from the edge of the building, he added, and is “not very visible from anyplace” outside.


Hollywood Street plans in progress

While it doesn’t impact the DRC process, Schoellkopf inquired about progress of discussions involving the town right-of-way, which Building Inspector Susan Frederick said was still being worked on. Schoellkopf said they were also working with the County on wastewater issues, which he said also would not impact the DRC process. He said there was thought of moving one sign a little higher, and Killmer noted that signage approval would come later in the process.

Schoellkopf said he had also gained support from a local representative of the Office of the State Fire Marshal for plans for parking and sidewalks on Hollywood Street but would need to obtain final approval from officials higher up. The town engineer is also set to be part of that process. If changes to the building design result, they would go back to the DRC for approval.

Schoellkopf noted that the proposed building design “is significantly more fire-safe” than the existing ones. “You can get out of every room through a sliding glass door,” he said.

Killmer also noted plans to change the town code regarding the percentage of compact-car parking spaces. He said Schoellkopf had answered many of the remaining questions he had about the plan, with a lingering issue being clarification of the intent for use of hotel amenities by the community, “to get an idea what’s possible and what’s not possible.”

The town’s building inspector, he said, could decide whether the other issues were resolved or needed to come back before the DRC for further discussion and final approval.

Though their vote on approval of the core exterior design was postponed until Dec. 13, Killmer also noted that he had asked DRC member Jim Weisgerber to recuse himself from the vote on the hotel, as Weisgerber’s business is a tenant of another property owned by Burbage. Weisgerber agreed not to vote and was not expected to attend the Dec. 13 meeting.

Also at the Dec. 6 meeting, the DRC granted approval for a new sign for Tidepool Toys & Games’ location on the boardwalk. Killmer labeled it “a very attractive sign,” noting that it is of the same design and size as signs already in the Blue Surf building, as well as featuring the store’s dolphin logo, which reflects its motto of “Toys with a Porpoise.” The sign, he said, met all requirements, and the DRC voted unanimously to approve it.