Plans to expand the Avenue Inn in Rehoboth Beach have cleared the first hurdle, but the project now faces a new one: site-plan review by the city’s planning commission.
The hotel will be the first project subject to site-plan review since the city established the practice in 2012. The site-plan review ordinance allows the planning commission to hold a public review process for large-scale developments.
The planning commission will hold a concept review of the project at the planners’ regular meeting, 6:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 8, in the city commissioners’ room. A concept review is typically not required as part of the process but was requested by the hotel’s owners. Planning commission Chairman Preston Littleton said no vote on the expansion will be taken at the meeting.
Littleton said a preliminary review of the project, normally the first step to site-plan approval, had been scheduled, but is on hold due to outstanding zoning issues. The hotel’s owners, Avenue Associates LLC, are proposing to expand by 8,000 square feet, adding 28 rooms, restaurant and retail space and underground parking.
Building inspector Terri Sullivan said the unresolved zoning issues include access to street-level parking, size of the stair towers, encroachments into the building stepbacks and handicapped parking. She said these issues are unrelated to the variance the hotel was unanimously granted July 28 by the board of adjustment from the floor-to-area or FAR and lot coverage requirements.
Littleton said once these problems are worked out, the hotel can proceed to a preliminary review and then a public hearing.
The expansion met with little controversy at the board of adjustment level as no one spoke against it. Board Chairman Tom Evans said at the board’s July 28 meeting that 11 letters were received and all were in support.
David Hutt, attorney for Avenue Associates, said the expansion conforms to the city’s height and setback requirements and is intended to revitalize Wilmington Avenue. Hutt said the plans fit in with the city’s desire to improve the second block of Wilmington Avenue spelled out in the comprehensive development plan.
Hutt said without a variance there would be no room for expansion because the hotel is a nonconforming structure. Per city zoning code, a new nonconforming structure cannot be built without a variance.
He said the expansion fits with the commercial uses on the street and with an underground parking garage, eliminates cars parked on Wilmington Avenue. Hutt said much of the FAR expansion is for the underground garage.
As part of the expansion, the hotel will reduce its number of off-site parking spaces because those spaces will be on-site.
The hotel is planning to build on two adjacent properties currently occupied by Planet X Café and the unoccupied former Cypress restaurant. Avenue Associates purchased the Cypress property in 2012 and Planet X in April 2014. The buildings, which Hutt said were structurally deficient, will be demolished.
Project architect Jeff Schoellkopf said the expansion would also improve and expand the sidewalks in front of the hotel. The first floor of the addition will house a restaurant and two retail spaces, with the additional hotel rooms above that, Schoellkopf said.
Ken Simpler Jr., co-owner of the hotel, said, “We think we’re onto something here. We want people to come to the second block of Wilmington Avenue.”