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Jetty Motel Owners Lose on Appeal but Have a Thread Left

Jetty Motel Owners Lose on Appeal but Have a Thread Left

By Vince Conti

The Jetty Motel in Cape May.
The Jetty Motel in Cape May.
File Photo
The Jetty Motel in Cape May.

CAPE MAY – A state appellate court has upheld a lower court ruling that denied permission to the owners of a Cape May City motel to demolish it and build a larger resort hotel with significantly more amenities.

Cape May Jetty Motel 9.29.21.jpg

But although the April 8 decision affirmed the lower court ruling, it also kept alive one aspect of the appeal, sending it back to the lower court for consideration.

In March 2022 Cape Jetty LLC, owners of the Jetty Motel at the Cove in Cape May City, filed suit against the city Planning Board, seeking reversal of a ruling that denied a 2021 application to demolish the existing motel and build a larger one.

The lower court affirmed the decision of the Planning Board, and Cape Jetty appealed.

The Cape Jetty property, at Second Avenue and the beach, is a 33-unit motel with a swimming pool and on-site parking sufficient to meet city code requirements.

In March 2019 the motel owners applied to build a 56-unit hotel with 66 on-site parking spaces and additional guest-only amenities. The application was approved in August, but Cape Jetty never obtained any building permits following that approval. Cape May City code sets a time limit of two years for obtaining necessary permits on an approved project.

In March 2021 Cape Jetty filed a new application, for a 53-unit resort hotel with a 240-seat restaurant open to the public and 65 on-site parking spaces. The addition of the restaurant increased the number of required parking spaces to 123.

Cape Jetty proposed to meet the requirement with 58 off-site spaces accessed through a valet parking service, but the applicants did not identify a location for the off-site parking. The new application sought variances for parking and height, requesting 3 feet over the 40-foot maximum.

The current motel sits adjacent to a residential area, and there was significant opposition to the plan from neighboring property owners, some of whom hired an attorney to represent their interests.

Following a hearing in November 2021, the new application was rejected by the Planning Board. Cape Jetty’s attorney said the company would move ahead under the plan approved in 2019. That was challenged by the attorney for the neighbors, who asserted that that approval had expired.

At the same time that Cape Jetty claimed the 2019 approval was still valid under state land use law, the owners applied for a one-year extension of the 2019 approval.

In January 2022 the Planning Board denied the 2021 application, based largely on the lack of specifically identified parking. In March Cape Jetty sued, and in November the lower court affirmed the denial of the 2021 application.

That left the question of the extension of the 2019 approval, which was also a part of the litigation. The trial judge remanded the extension back to the Planning Board to render “adequate fact finding and conclusions.”

The appeal of the lower court ruling sought reversal of the decision denying the 2021 application. It also asked the court to rule on the denial of the extension request based on issues of alleged discrepancy between the city code and the state’s municipal land use law.

A new wrinkle in this month’s appellate ruling is that the court reversed the lower court’s remand of the extension issue to the Planning Board and instead remanded it to the trial judge at the lower court.

That judge is to decide if the denial of the extension request was “arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable,” as Cape Jetty argues, or, as the Planning Board claims, Cape Jetty failed to meet its burden of proof to the board.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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