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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Avalon Approves Boutique Hotels for Business District

Avalon district map.jpg

By Vince Conti

AVALON – With six affirmative votes from the 13-member Avalon Planning and Zoning Board, the borough approved an amendment to its Master Plan that would allow boutique hotels in the business district.  

The district is over 2 miles from the designated hotel zone.  

There were three “no” votes, three members were absent, and one member recused herself. Among the “yes” votes were Sam Wierman, a Borough Council representative on the board and current governing body president. 

“Building a hotel to open a restaurant is like using a sledgehammer to drive a tack” was the remark of one resident opposed to the amendment. The reference was to the often-stated reason for a boutique hotel amendment – that a high-end restaurant in such a hotel would promote tourism and produce more “foot traffic” in the business district. 

Public comment at the meeting was not conducted under oath, as would normally be the case at a formal hearing. The comment period ran for a little over an hour, with applause punctuating the comments both for and against.  

Those opposed to the amendment were clearly in the majority in a full meeting room that had even added folding chairs for additional seating. A rough count is that there were two speakers opposed for every one speaker who favored the amendment. 

A video of the proceeding was created by an interested resident who has since placed that video on social media for general access. The Planning and Zoning Board has resisted calls for remote access to its meetings. 

In 2021, an issue of a potential restaurant/wedding venue on the boardwalk led to a Planning and Zoning Board meeting with required remote access due to Covid. That meeting saw hundreds of residents participate remotely and the application was defeated.  

Since then, the 2021 meeting has been referenced by some officials, including past Planning and Zoning Board chair and now Council member Jamie McDermott as an experience not to be relived. Those officials have never celebrated the 2021 meeting as an example of intense and widespread public interest and participation. 

Supporters of the Master Plan amendment at the Aug. 9 meeting offered similar reasons for their support. A boutique hotel in the business district would, they argue, extend the tourist season and offer struggling local businesses additional clientele, especially in the shoulder months. 

Those opposed ask “what has changed” since a similar boutique hotel plan was soundly defeated in 2016.  

“What are you thinking?” asked one resident, who stated that retail sales are down across the nation. “That isn’t how people shop now.” 

The debate continued for over an hour, with references to the benefits and the detriments associated with boutique hotel development in neighboring Stone Harbor.  

For some, the Stone Harbor experience shows boutique hotels support the adjacent business area and for others, it is proof of how unfriendly such a hotel would be to nearby residences. 

There were some who challenged the legality of the process associated with this meeting of the board. They argued that general public comment is not a substitute for a formal hearing where individuals speak under oath. 

Others argued that there were not sufficient details available to the public before a vote that amended the Master Plan. The reply from the board and Council member Wierman was that “details will be nailed down.” For some who already expressed distrust of the board’s motivations in moving so quickly on the amendment, that was not a comforting response. 

For everyone who argued that the borough must adjust to changing times, there were voices in strong opposition who saw the residential character of the community being upended for what many predicted would be a failed attempt to rejuvenate local businesses. By the time that is clear to those voting to support this move, the opposition asserts, the borough will have already added additional density to what is already the “most congested area of town.” 

With Mayor Martin Pagliughi scheduled to deliver his State of the Borough message Aug. 13, at least some of the questions from the public following his address are likely to involve the boutique hotel overlay. 

Have any thoughts and/or information on this story? Emailvconti@cmcherald.com.     

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