February 17, 2008

Carolina Beach Council Approves 90-Room Fairfield Inn On Boardwalk

(Pictured Above:) A rendering of a 115' tall Fairfield Inn proposed for construction adjacent to the Marriott Hotel on the Boardwalk. Town Council approved the project at their January 8th meeting.

By Willard H. Killough IIIManaging Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council approved a request to build a 115' tall 90-room Fairfield Inn adjacent to the north side of the existing Marriott Hotel at their January 8th meeting. To facilitate the project, the Town Council also closed several portions of public right-of-ways on the Boardwalk.

The applicant - Tidewater Property Acquisitions, Inc and Carolina Beach Land Holdings, LLC - are requesting to build the Fairfield Inn. They also developed the Marriott.The Carolina Beach Planning and Zoning Commission voted at their December 13, meeting to recommend Town Council deny a request for their conditional use permit to construct the project.Planning Commissioners all generally agreed that another hotel would be welcome in the downtown area, but expressed concerns with closing public right-of-ways used for pedestrian access on the boardwalk, parking, infrastructure and consistency with the Town’s Land Use Plan.

The Town’s Planning Department explained the project is in general conformity with the Town’s 2007 CAMA Land Use Plan. Many people spoke in favor and opposition to the project with many saying they had concerns but were not totally opposed to a hotel in the area. Local resident Lynn Denne said the Town should look at ways to better educate the public on large projects. She also asked if the value of the right-of-ways being closed for the project is worth a new hotel and was the developer truly being creative or just brining a cookie cutter design that has been built in other towns.

Donna Gurgainos of the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce voiced support for the project to improve the Boardwalk area and Central Business District by utilizing vacant properties to boost the economy and tax base. She explained the developers are not strangers to the Town; they have already built a successful Marriott Hotel.

Local resident and business owner Don Bosco echoed Donna’s opinion stating that while other projects have been approved and have yet to become reality, Tidewater has already developed the Marriott and has a good track record.

Leroy Franks says he opposes the project because there will only be eleven feet between the two hotel buildings and will not leave sufficient space for the fire department to operate. He said the project would block access to the beachfront and if the developer says they need public property or else the project can’t be built, “He can downsize his project if he wants to.”

Franks also requested that Council member Pat Efird excuse herself from voting on the project or the request to close the right-of-ways because her real estate company is currently listing property near the hotel site. He explained, “Which ever way she decides, it could be a windfall profit for her client or herself.”Efird commented, “I should hope so.” Many in the audience applauded and Efird commented, “I don’t stay in business for nothing.”Efird said the property is not a part of the hotel project and there is no financial conflict of interest.

Birdie Clark explained one of her concerns is the Town is nearing completion of the master plan for the boardwalk and central business district and would like to see the Town, “Wait just a little longer to see what the direction is and we can be sure this project will fit with what will be built adjacent to it.”

Clark explained that while developers and town staff communicate about a project prior to meetings, “We haven’t had a flippin clue of what ya’ll have been talking about until now and there is not enough time between a planning and zoning decision” and a Town Council meeting for people to be informed.

She explained that some people get information before the general public and the Town should use a process that better informs and educates the public throughout the entire review process.

Another resident urged the Council to require the developer to open up pedestrian access to the area south of the boardwalk that was closed when the Marriott was built. The street closure request is to close the eastern end of Cape Fear Blvd., a portion of Carolina Beach Avenue South and a portion of a 20’ foot right-of-way that leads off Carolina Beach Avenue South. All within the area of the Boardwalk.

If the roads and alleys are closed, the applicant and new property owner has agreed to deed the estimated northern 74’ feet by 110’ feet of the Cape Fear right-of-way back to the Town for a park area. That means a small portion of the gazebo area at the Boardwalk would become part of the hotel property, with the larger portion given back to the Town for a park.

Councilman Dan Wilcox said the project meets the ordinances and the Council could require the developer to include a restaurant and a parking garage, but the ordinance doesn’t require that and Council can’t force them to do something the ordinance doesn’t require. He said the hotel would bring additional people to the area to stimulate the economy and will bring $1.26 million dollars in impact fees to the Town as well as additional room occupancy, property and sales tax revenues. The developer will be required to install and upgrade infrastructure in the area. He feels the project is in general conformity with the Town’s land use plan because it meets the majority of the polices in the plan.

Councilman Alan Gilbert said the conditional use permit process has let the Town and people down because it prohibits any real constructive negotiation on behalf of the citizens with a developer because Council members can’t discuss the project with the public prior to a meeting per legal requirements of the process and Town staff has no power to negotiate. Gilbert said a hotel is a benefit in that area but, “Is it worth giving up right-of-ways and accesses, will it benefit the Boardwalk. And I think we are just a few features short of doing that.”

Gilbert referenced the absence of a restaurant that could benefit the area and said a parking lot located nearby the primary hotel site will replace commercial use with a ground-level parking lot entirely for hotel use. He explained that a lack of amenities would cause him to rate the project a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Wilcox explained the project has to be reviewed under the existing ordinance and conditional use permit process. Gilbert urged the developer to open up pedestrian access from the Boardwalk through the Marriott parking lot towards the Lake and Carolina Beach Avenue South area.

Council member Pat Efird said, “We’ve been waiting a long time for something to happen on that Boardwalk with nobody, other than Russ Maynard on the north end, to even consider building something on the Boardwalk. I welcome these developers to come in here and do something.”

The Council voted three to two to approve the project with Mayor Joel Macon and Council members Wilcox and Efird voting yes and Council members Alan Gilbert and Jerry Johnson voting against the hotel. The same members voted identically for the request to close right-of-ways for the hotel. The developers have agreed to donate an existing vacant lot near the Gazebo area to the Town for public open space.

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