In the wake of a Bethany Beach Town Council refusal to allow a needed electrical transformer on public property, and other concerns, those looking to redevelop the landmark Blue Surf Motel on the town’s boardwalk decided that some changes to their plan were in order.
The McCabe family, builder Coleman Bunting and the project’s architect unveiled those changes last week, for another hearing before Bethany’s commercial architecture Design Review Committee (DRC) on Friday, Sept. 14.
Originally proposed and approved for conversion into 20 condominiums and more than a dozen retail spaces, the Blue Surf now stands to be turned into 13 condominiums, 14 retail units and either one or two restaurants.
The restaurants would be located on the second and third stories of the new complex. Bunting said the restaurant tenants had not been decided as yet but that one space was likely to be significantly smaller than the other, perhaps even housing the existing Shore Break take-out business.
But the biggest change for many concerned with the project was a revamp of the building’s northern façade, which was originally set to be a nearly solid wall that would face on the narrow boardwalk ramp and the boardwalk bandstand area. The notion generated concern about how the resulting passage would greet beachgoers, with the phrases “wind tunnel” and “cattle chute” having been used.
In contrast, the plans presented on Sept. 14 now call for a northern façade very similar to what was proposed for the eastern, oceanfront face of the building, as well as its Atlantic Avenue side — neither of which are a sea change from the motel’s current architecture.
There will be recessed storefronts on all three sides of the main level, with column-supported, covered porches providing access and a place for shoppers to get out of the summer sun. The second and third stories of the building will be recessed above the retail spaces, with their own porches and pitched roofs.
The only plain, sheer face of the building will be where it fronts on the neighboring Bethany Arms. The two properties will be divided by an open deck.
“This is my favorite of the three drawings you have presented,” outgoing Town Council Member and DRC Chairman Lew Killmer said last Friday, clearly relieved to see the new design.
“I’m pleased to see the ‘wall’ gone,” Killmer added. “I was very concerned about that wall. It would not have been pretty.”
The feeling was mutual for DRC member Don Doyle.
“We have spent so much time talking about Streetscape and the beautification of Garfield Parkway,” he said, “and to have that wall…”
Even the project architect was impressed with the changes that had recently been made to his design.
“When I saw that rendering, I felt like that was something that belonged in Bethany,” he said, echoing the purpose of the DRC and the new commercial architectural guidelines it was put in place to enforce. The aim for all new Bethany downtown commercial structures is that they fit in with the aesthetic of a quaint beach town.
“That’s why we have the DRC,” Killmer acknowledged, “to protect the character of the town.”
“This is like the mall,” he added of the project’s importance to the future of the town. “It is going to be a focal point in that area.”
As it stands, the Blue Surf will become a three-story retail/condominium complex, rising 47 feet above the ground (37 feet above the property’s base flood elevation). DRC members said on Sept. 14 that they would rather the building maintain the planned 5/12 roof pitch rather than look at making it taller just to obtain a desired 7/12 roof pitch.
Parking for condominium residents will be under the first floor and planned pool deck. The pool is set to be 5 feet deep and constructed from concrete, with a wooden pool deck.
A ramp on the Atlantic Avenue side of the building will allow access from the street for handicapped and other visitors, while an interior elevator on the first floor can take them to the second and third floors, in addition to the planned stairways. Bunting said it was unlikely anyone close to the new Blue Surf would be able to see the required elevator overrun area on the roof, as it is buried in the center of the large building.
The building will be covered in Cedar Impressions faux-cedar shingle siding, with gray asphalt roof shingles. The building will be predominantly gray with white trim, including the columns supporting the various porch roofs and awnings. The building is now set to be framed entirely with wood — a shift from previous plans, due to the change in design and other fire control elements, including sprinklers. The new design also allows for a fire lane.
“The fire marshal is very happy with it now,” Bunting said, fresh of his latest meetings with inspectors.
DRC members on Sept. 14 approved one element that was not on the plans for the Blue Surf at the outset of their meeting — columns supporting the awning over the boardwalk-side porch area. It was a request the DRC was willing to grant, as the commercial property has no setbacks and existing railings for the motel’s boardwalk-fronting units are already in roughly the same locations. The columns were drawn right on the plans before DRC members signed-off on them.
They also expressed approval for the decision to use hurricane-resistant glass on the glass storefront windows planned for the project’s commercial spaces.
With unanimous approval of the DRC on Sept. 14, the project was set to begin demolition in the coming weeks, on course to reopen as the combined condominium, restaurant and retail space before the start of the summer season of 2008.
That will mean some changes for fans of the Webcam seen at the Web site BethanyCam.com, at least for a little while. Peter Roenke of Coastal Images/Beach-Net, which runs the camera that shows live images from the boardwalk, assured the site’s fans recently, “Plans for the new Web cam housing are in the design of the new structure.”
“The cam will probably have a few months of ‘down-time’ while they build the section it’s going to reside in,” Roenke explained. “We’re working toward a temporary box for it during that time, but it’s complicated,” he added.
“So, at worst, we’ll be dark a short while,” he noted, explaining, “The biggest problem is having access to the cams at all times, since they are finicky pieces of equipment, and require regular and irregular maintenance and resets. We have to deal with weather, people, cats walking on keyboards, electrical surges and cable outages.”
The Web cam’s future secure, the next big attraction for those keeping a watch on the Bethany Beach boardwalk will be the demolition and construction process for the Blue Surf itself, as well as the major reconstruction of the town’s entire beachfront, which will be taking place simultaneously.
Blue Surf developers will have to return to the DRC at least one more time, to get their approval of plans for signage for the commercial tenants, which DRC members requested be of a cohesive style so that they could approve in one sitting a signage design for the entire complex.