President's Day weekend big for Blue Surf

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. The redevelopment of the former Blue Surf Motel as a mixed-use condominium and retail location has not been scrapped, as has been whispered widely in the community in recent weeks. Nor has the project lost its funding, according to Realtor Lauren Alberti, who took over the listings for the Blue Surf Condominiums this week.

“A certain number of sales are required for the construction phase to begin,” Alberti told the Coastal Point. “They had letters of reservations on 20 units, but letters of reservation are not binding. And then they changed the plan and had to start over again.”

Indeed, plans to develop with dozens of condominium units had to be shelved during the course of the review process for the new Blue Surf, when it was discovered that number would take the project over allowed density for its location in downtown Bethany Beach’s commercial district, Alberti said.

A simple conversion from 40 motel units to dozens of condos and some retail shops had been anticipated under initial calculations, she noted. But the decision to raze the building and build a new structure brought along with it a requirement to adhere to current density limits — a complicating factor no one connected with the project noticed until late in the design process, she said.

Members of the town’s Architectural Guideline Design Review Committee had previously approved the exterior look of the project, but they returned Sept. 14 to review the revamped design of 13 condominiums on the second and third stories facing the east and south sides, 14 retail units on the ground floor and space for a restaurant along Atlantic Avenue, plus a small apartment for the owners’ family — designed to use up remaining space in the building and preserve the McCabe family’s ties to the location for future generations.

The revised plan was even considered an improvement by DRC members, since it removed a solid wall along the boardwalk access ramp in favor of open porches similar to what had been there for decades.

New timetable targets late-summer work

The change in plan has put the project behind its original timetable, though. That timetable aimed at completing construction in time for retail shops and condo owners to be enjoying the summer season of 2008. That won’t happen now, particularly with town code limiting major construction during the summer.

But Alberti said that, with the architectural design and demolition phases of the project complete, all that’s left to get the project under way once more is to sell — and actually get signed contracts on — a few of the condominium units. Those sales would satisfy the financial requirements for the project’s financing bank to release money for the revamped Blue Surf’s construction phase, at which point, she said, the project could get moving again.

Alberti noted that she was originally approached by the McCabe family at the outset of the project but at that time could not reach agreement with them on being the project’s Realtor. But after the complications the project has suffered, she is now on board and is now planning a major push for sales over the President’s Day weekend, she said.

Signage problems due to the demolition of the old motel are complicating that plan, Alberti admitted. A sales sign that had been located on the now-razed building is gone along with the former motel’s porches, curtains and couches. And Alberti said she is being told she will only be allowed a 2-by-3-foot sign or banners, as normally allowed for sales at a vacant lot.

The town has also told her that, while a construction trailer would be allowed on-site, a sales trailer will not be permitted. The veteran Realtor said she would prefer to place a larger, more attractive sign or sales trailer at the location, to help spur sales not leave the impression of a vacant construction site.

She has thus asked Bethany Beach Town Solicitor Terry Jaywork to review town code to see if there is leeway in the code for accommodating more signage, since the “in between” situation the project finds itself in is not directly addressed in the code. Alberti will have to go through a several months-long process of requesting a variance from the town’s Board of Adjustments if it there is not room for that kind of allowance already in the code.

Funding for project still lined up

In the meantime, Alberti is also eager to squash rumors of funding problems with the project.

“This wouldn’t be a problem with a big developer,” she said, noting the financing issues with redeveloping the Blue Surf are the same for the McCabe’s as they would be for any small property owner who had just purchased their land and was now pursuing lending for the construction of a residence.

The lending and real estate markets’ recent problems are a complicating factor, she added, with banks less willing to take risks on a single small, family-run corporation versus a large corporation with multiple projects and a long history of successful development.

But, in contrast to the risk taken by large developers who must phase big projects in multiple buildings and count on early sales to fund ongoing construction, Alberti said the McCabes have one great advantage.

“There is less risk since this is all in one building with no phasing,” she said. “Once we get a few units sold, things will just flow.”

Site quiet, empty, but not abandoned

Alberti said the appearance of a stalled or abandoned project has been one thing the family has tried to avoid, which ironically led to more rumors swirling about the project’s demise recently, when they had a delivery of the foundation pilings for the new structure held, rather than brought to the beachfront site.

“They wanted to avoid having them just sit on the site,” she said, fearing that the wait until a few sales contracts came in would imply to potential buyers — and the community at large — that the project had been abandoned.

Right now, the project is awaiting those few key sales contracts that will move it forward with the lender’s go-ahead and permits that could get construction under way as soon as late summer, Alberti said.

Beachgoers, in the meantime, will likely have just the one summer season to see the sand underneath what was for decades one of the town’s best-known landmarks, before construction of the new-era Blue Surf begins and the site comes alive once more with shops, a restaurant and residences for dozens who will enjoy one of the best views in town.