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Belhaven makes wish list pitch to Rehoboth planning

Proposed 4-story hotel exceeds FAR, architectural embellishments come in at 69 feet
July 9, 2019

Story Location:
2 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Belhaven Hotel continued it’s sketch plan review before the Rehoboth Planning Commission June 14, this time with a wish list that includes a rooftop bar.

John Papajohn and his son Alex Papajohn introduced the hotel at 2 Rehoboth Ave. in April. John said the four-story hotel, which fronts the Boardwalk and stretches from Rehoboth Avenue to Wilmington Avenue, would be as stylish and attractive as the original Belhaven Hotel that stood in that same spot decades ago.

At the June meeting, John said they’ve dropped the number of rooms to about 110 to maximize customer experience, but kept the number of parking spaces, over 120, for tenant parking.

Architect Peter Fillat, owner of Fillat + Architecture of Baltimore, discussed the changes. Gone is a proposed 24-foot-wide, 10,000-square-foot porch on the second floor with public access. Gone is access to the rooftop of the first floor from the Boardwalk. The pool is now positioned over the customer drop-off on Wilmington Avenue. There’s now a 3,000-square-foot ballroom facing Wilmington Avenue. Fillat addressed safety concerns brought up at the first meeting by showing stairwells that exited onto the streets.

Fillat estimated the floor-to-area ratio, including all space except the garage, is approximately 2.47. “If the garage is included in FAR, we can go home,” he said.

Fillat said, as planned, the eaves of the hotel are at 42 feet, meeting the city’s height limit. The top of the architectural embellishments, however, is 69 feet high. According to city code, total height of a building with embellishments can not exceed 50 feet.

In addition to new design concepts, the Papajohns introduced Ben Seidel of Ocean City-based Real Hospitality Group, who would manage hotel operations.

Seidel said The Belhaven would be located at one of the most prominent locations on all of the Eastern Seaboard. “This will be a home run for this city,” said Seidel, who has 40 years of experience in hotel management.

Seidel said discussions are ongoing about soft branding the hotel with an international hotel chain to take advantage of travel points and an online booking system. There would be no exterior signage or markings from the larger chain; for all intents and purposes, he said the Belhaven would remain locally owned.

Local attorney Tim Willard represents the Trahos family, cousins to the Papajohns and property owners of a parcel that fronts the Boardwalk and Wilmington Avenue that would be surrounded by the proposed hotel.

Willard said his clients have four major concerns:

• Emergency entry and exit points – In the case of an emergency, Willard said, his clients do not want their property’s rooftop to be the primary access to the core of the Belhaven.

• Future plans – The Trahos family may want to redevelop their property, and they seek assurance from the planning commission their plans to redevelop will not be denied because of the Belhaven.

• Parking garage – Belhaven development must not affect the structural integrity of the the Trahos’ property, which Willard said, will be subjected to an increased risk of subterranean hydrostatic pressure.

• Zogg’s Raw Bar & Grill, 1 Wilmington Ave. – This is an existing outdoor restaurant with live outdoor entertainment. Willard said the Papajohn family should expect there will continue to be food odors and noise from patrons and staff.

Following the new information and public comment, the board discussed the next step for the hotel. Should the developer continue before the planning commission or should they try to get variances approved by the board of adjustment first?

Planning Commission Chair David Mellen described it as a chicken-and-egg scenario, but he and his fellow commissioners felt strongly the project should come back before the planning commission one more time with more specific details.

Planning commission member Jeff Trunzo said the project has substantially progressed since April. The commission asked for clarity, the architectural wish list, and hotel operations and market niche so commissioners could understand how everything works with the community. 

“What we got this time is still a concept, still a sketch, but much more developed,” said Trunzo. “Nothing that’s been proposed seems outrageous if we had all the numbers and we understood how it all worked together.”

Ultimately, it was decided the plans should be developed further, with specific numbers, and then come back before the planning commission again.

“Asking the what-if questions early in the game saves a lot down the line. The degree to which we can answer those kinds of things, the better off we’ll all be,” said Mellen.

The sketch-plan review will continue during the Friday, July 12 planning commission meeting.

Baltimore Avenue hotel taking next step

The Belhaven isn’t the only proposed hotel in Rehoboth, and the planning commission will have a preliminary site plan review July 12 for The Atlantic Crown Hotel and Retreat.

Gene Lankford of Lankford Properties LLC introduced the 40-room, French-style boutique hotel to the planning commission in July 2018. The hotel would be built on three lots – 17, 19, and 21 Baltimore Ave.

In March, the Rehoboth Beach Board of Adjustment approved two variances and denied a third. The board allowed the hotel to have five floors as long as the total height did not break the city’s 42-foot height limit. The board approved not counting an 8,000-square-foot underground parking garage against the building’s floor-to-area ratio.

Even without counting the garage, the building was still roughly 7,600 square feet larger than FAR allows – the majority of which is related to the size of meeting rooms, which are taller than 12 feet, so the square footage of each room is counted twice. At the March meeting, the board of adjustment denied a request on allowing the excess square footage.