Design committee approves Blue Surf replacement plans

Since 1959, the Blue Surf motel has stood on the Bethany Beach Boardwalk. And for 41 years, the same family has owned and operated the powder blue motel recognizable by anyone who has lived or visited the coastal Delaware resort.

But Patricia McCabe, who has owned and operated the motel with her family for more than four decades, sat along with her family at Bethany’s inaugural Commercial Design and Review Committee, again presenting plans for the grandiose building which might soon replace the Bethany Beach staple.

If approved as presented, the three-story new building, fixed with domed, faceted hip roofs topped with flags and wraparound porches, will sport “upscale” condominium units on its second and third floors and retail stores on its first.

Sitting on the boardwalk, backing up to Atlantic Avenue and extending over to Garfield, the building’s design might become what some called Tuesday a “benchmark” for Bethany’s design guidelines. First, though, it will have to win a host of town approvals. The McCabes — who hope to start demolition by fall of next year — and the castle-like building received the first of those approvals in overwhelming fashion Tuesday when the committee approved its design and heaped compliments on its designers.

“I think this is a benchmark for all future (plans) that come before us,” said Lew Killmer, a Bethany Beach town councilman and chair of the design committee. “You’ve gone overboard. My hat’s off to you.”

Throughout his presentation, Matt Arnold, an architect with the Virginia-based Robert Wilson Mobley Partnership — which has worked on projects from Bethany to Seattle — stressed the influence of the design guidelines on the plan. Arnold said that firm architects intended the project to stand as a model for future plans. He cited open balconies and porches, hidden service areas and parking lots, white railings and columns, difference in roof types and wraparound porches as examples of this Bethany guidelines-based design.

“We’ve made an effort not just to comply (with the guidelines) but to design a project as an exemplary example to show what you intended,” with the design guidelines, Arnold said in his presentation. As Arnold flipped through the guidelines, comparing them to several drawings of the proposed project Tuesday, he noted that the design followed not just the mandated but also the recommended design aspects. “We’re very proud of (the design),” Arnold said.

On the west, Atlantic Avenue, side of the proposed project shop fronts would sit behind a raised, white-fenced wraparound porch, covered by an awning. Shops also line the east, boardwalk, side of the proposal but sit on the ground level. Less shops line the north, Garfield, side of the proposed structure where a large blank wall covering service areas and a parking garage for residents was a source of concern Tuesday. Committee members suggested that the blank wall in a heavily pedestrian-traveled area, directly across from the bandstand restrooms, might be unsightly and welcome graffiti. Arnold agreed to study alternatives before presenting final plans.

The south side of the building is the least attractive, and will probably be the least seen. But, as with all sides of the proposed condo/retail building, exposed staircases and balconies give the project life. Also, an open, common space on the second floor might, if approved, contain a pool and will be decorated by plant-life. Elevators and stairs will be provided for the building’s residents who would live in “upscale” open condos featuring hard-wood floors and granite, McCabe said. If built, the owner hopes that the upscale units will be complimented by different, upscale shops downstairs.

“The units are really nice units,” McCabe said. “They are really upscale. We thought the shops below should be that way (too).”

The McCabes first presented their plans for the building last year but a town moratorium delayed the approval process. Even if the project is approved, McCabe said she will keep the Blue Surf Motel open for one more summer and begin demolition in the end of Sept., 2007. If that timeline holds, the building should be completed by May of 2008. Not building during and remaining open for the summer season was a main concern of the McCabes, Patricia McCabe said Tuesday. Neither she, nor Arnold, knew when the project would come before town officials for the next step in the approval process.