Bethany hotel gets a review, workshop planned for Nov. 2

Bethany Beach’s new hotel has a long way to go before a building permit is even approved. The most recent step was a look at the hotel’s exterior design. Bethany’s Non-Residential Design Review Committee (DRC) met Oct. 11 to review developer Jack Burbage’s proposed facilty on the former Bethany Arms Motel property.

To be located in two oceanfront buildings, on both sides of Hollywood Street, in the new CL-1 Commercial Lodging zoning district, the hotel is proposed to be a Marriott Residence Inn, but even that is a distant decision. Burbage said he has been working with a Marriott corporate officer who vacations in Bethany to see which of the Marriott brands would best fit the hotel.

Ultimately, whether it’s considered a Courtyard or a Residence Inn, Burbage said this is primarily a “Bethany Beach Boardwalk Hotel.”

“For me, Residence Inn has no meaning, other than what reservation system it has,” he said.

As a “boutique” hotel, he said, the Bethany facility will have flexibility within the 400-page Marriott design guidebooks.

“We really feel this is a boutique hotel. Show me any Marriott that looks like this,” Burbage said. “It doesn’t exist.”

Architect Jeff Schoellkopf had previously worked for the Town as a consultant in writing the non-commercial design guidelines to which the hotel’s exterior will need to adhere, but most recently, he’s been designing the new hotel for Burbage and the Bethany Boardwalk Group LLC.

“We feel a lot of work has gone into this,” Schoellkopf said. “It’s still a schematic design open to input from the committee. … It’s not the final plan, but it’s well-vetted.”

The northern building of the two-building complex would hold all the hotel’s central amenities: lobby, laundry, a 100-seat bistro restaurant overlooking the boardwalk, breakfast room, kitchen, meeting room, large event room, pool, market, business center and more. Catering for large events would be expected to be contracted out.

The south building will be hotel rooms only, and that building may be closed in the off-season. The 112 total rooms would be mostly a mix of open king and queen suites, ranging in size from 340 to 540 square feet, with 40 oceanfront rooms and another 50 with ocean views from the sides.

Rumors of a pedestrian bridge connecting the two buildings were false, the two men said Oct. 11. Guests will cross Hollywood Street itself to get from one building to another. A wrap-around porch will cover the south and east sides, with some private rooms, the restaurant on the east side and a southern walkway.

“What happened to the design that was mailed out with an open porch?” Councilman and DRC Chairman Lew Killmer asked.

Changes were made to early plans, Schoellkopf said. Rooms along the south side’s second story caused the lobby to only be 9 feet tall. But a taller lobby is “dramatically nicer,” he said.

A top-floor pool won’t be noticeable from the outside. It may have a retractable roof, skylight or a wide patio with fold-away doors so people can enjoy it “indoors” or “outdoors.”

Killmer asked if the pool will have public access in wintertime, as is the case for Sea Colony’s facility, which offers off-season memberships to locals.

When Burbage declined to offer that, Killmer reminded the developer he had once said he planned to “involve the community.”

Burbage said that was regarding meeting and conference rooms.

While the Fire Marshal’s Office requires a 24-foot emergency lane, Schoellkoph is angling for approval of a 20-foot lane, which he said would still allow the Bethany Beach Fire Company room to park and work around their trucks.

“The building is significantly more fire-safe than it needs to be by code,” he said, citing soundproof walls and distances to exits. That road also provides emergency beach access. In the future, architects will continue discussing the fire lanes, as well as storm windows, they said.

Parking is still an issue. Guests will park in underground garages, with 115 spaces (for 112 hotel rooms), with the primary entrance being on Hollywood and only the northern building having an exit onto Atlantic Avenue. But Burbage is still working with the Town to figure out provisions for employee parking. Hopefully, they can bicycle to work, Burbage said. Or, he’ll create an off-site parking lot and shuttle service.

As for the privacy of south-side neighbors, Schoellkopf said services and utilities will be on that side of the building, so hotel guests and residents will have mutual privacy.

The Atlantic Avenue loading bay is proposed to be 23 feet wide, 45 feet deep and 14 feet high. It’s designed for trucks to back in, although a challenge will be encouraging trucks to use it properly, officials noted. Plus, top-loading garbage trucks may be unable to lift the commercial trash bins overhead. The hotel may need a trash compactor.

Killmer asked why that delivery zone was proposed to be across the street from residents, not on Hollywood instead.

Schoellkopf said Hollywood slopes upward, so trucks would have to drive up a small hill to go back down into the loading zone. Plus, it would change the design of the lobby completely.

“I understand,” he said of the concerns. “I just don’t think there’s a great solution to that. I like to think everything can be solved by design, but…” Schoellkopf said they’re aiming to keep everything indoors and undercover, instead of “down the road by other neighbors.”

Deliveries would come to the loading zone and travel through service elevators and hallways, instead of being carted through the main lobby.

Burbage said the “majority of unloading” will be done where the current Bethany Arms trash bin is, next to the Blue Surf Motel. He does not anticipate 18-wheelers needing to access the facility but said it needs more study.

Structurally, the building will be in compliance with town code, but the features have been reduced in scale to match the town’s character. For instance, facing the boardwalk, the overhanging porch roof, railing and rooms line up with the north-side neighbors’. The building will not stick out farther than it does now. And it will have a 7-foot setback from the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk to comply with fire codes.

The design, Schoellkopf said, uses cupolas, gables and bays, and blues, yellow and gray to create a rich design that creates flow but isn’t monotonous along the building.

The group on Oct. 11 also discussed the possibility of landscaping, HVAC located on the roof, latticework to improve blank walls and exterior lights.

The hotel has “potential to dramatically alter the physical landscape of the downtown commercial district” and may be one of the Non-Residential Design Review Committee’s biggest projects, they acknowledged.

Burbage has asked the Town to host a public workshop on the hotel, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 2, at 10 a.m. at town hall. Both the council and the public will be able to ask questions after Burbage’s presentation on the project, but the council is asking citizens to refrain from rehashing old arguments about whether or not they want the hotel and stick to forward-looking issues, such as its design and construction.

The architect said he will bring design changes to the next DRC meeting, which is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m., also at town hall.