WILDWOOD CREST – A hotly contested proposal for the renovation and expansion of a beachfront motel will come back before the borough’s Planning Board for the third time on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Eustace Mita, chairman of ICONA Resorts, which purchased the Ocean Holiday Motor Inn in 2019, has been trying to gain the necessary approvals to transform the site at Rosemary Road and Ocean Avenue into his proposed Mahalo Resort for four years. Mahalo is Mita’s recently established select-service brand, complimenting his full service ICONA brand. Select-service hotels offer fewer or pared-down amenities, like restaurants and meeting space.
In 2020, the Wildwood Crest Planning Board approved his application to transform the property, including adding a new five-story tower of rooms and creating a parking garage underneath the hotel.
But the site’s neighbor across Ocean Avenue, the Compass Family Resort, sued, delaying construction. The state Department of Environmental Protection determined the builder needed a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit to proceed.
Mita and company had to revise the plan to get the CAFRA approval and, when they did, the changes required them to come back before the borough’s Planning Board to be treated as a new application.
After the revised and scaled-back application came back to the board it was the subject of two packed hearings totaling about eight hours of testimony earlier this year, in April and June, at which numerous speakers, including other local hoteliers, spoke against the plan, which they said was asking for too much.
Others said the Crest would be lucky to have Mita, citing his track record, and said the plan looked like a beautiful transformation for the old motel, which has sat dilapidated for four years.
Much of the public sentiment focused on the loss of so-called view corridors, a major concern of the Compass, which would have its ocean views cut into by the Mahalo’s proposed new tower of rooms.
View corridors are built into planning in Wildwood Crest and describe a vision for the hotel and motel zone where structures sit farther back off the streets that run east-west, creating wide-open streets and better views from those farther back from the beach.
The Compass was represented by counsel and presented experts, including a planner and a traffic engineer. The Planning Board seemed to find the testimony from the traffic engineer, David Shropshire, particularly persuasive.
Most of the board members’ comments centered on the undersized parking arrangement and the potential safety and congestion issues it created.
Shropshire testified that the combination of variances surrounding the parking arrangement Mahalo is seeking creates an untenable situation that cannot be fixed without reducing the number of spaces, given there are already compromises made for the size of spaces and the size of circulation aisles.
Shropshire also questioned the legitimacy of multiple proposed spaces. He said there are multiple dead-end spaces where cars would be locked in and cars parked in them could only leave the garage by backing all the way out, and also testified he has never seen tandem handicap parking proposed in his career.
In a unanimous vote, members of the Planning Board shut Mita’s proposal down, a decision he told the Herald left him “shell-shocked.”
The new application that will be heard Dec. 6 changes very little, but does present two new potential parking arrangements to try to address concerns. One introduces parking lifts. The application also brings the new tower flush with the existing motel along Ocean Avenue. It had stuck out closer to the street in the prior proposal to allow for more square footage in the new rooms.
Contact the author, Shay Roddy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-886-8600, ext. 142.