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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Avalon Seeks Expert Advice on Boutique Hotel Zone

AVALON LOGO SHUTTERSTOCK

By Vince Conti

AVALON – The Avalon Planning and Zoning Board surprised some of those who had turned out to oppose a boutique hotel overlay in the town’s business district Oct. 12. The board also disappointed some who support the overlay and expected a draft ordinance that would spell out the requirements for approval and construction of a boutique hotel.
Instead, the board opted for seeking the advice of a consultant in the hotel and hospitality field. The articulated goal for boutique hotel development in the business district is to reenergize the commercial heart of the borough, especially in the periods leading up to and immediately following the busy summer season. 
Avalon has not experienced the benefits of busy shoulder seasons similar to what is seen in neighboring Stone Harbor. Coincidentally, there is a very successful boutique hotel in Stone Harbor, the Reeds at Shelter Haven. 
While some who have spent months opposing the plans for a boutique hotel overlay in the B1 Business District welcomed any attempt to reanimate the discussion with a reexamination of the issues, one resident pointed to what she saw as the problem with the consultation approach. “You have a hotel consultant, and you get a hotel,” was her simple summary. “What we want is an independent study about whether this is the right direction for this town,” she added. 
Those who spoke in favor of allowing a boutique hotel in the district often stated the need to increase foot traffic in the business district. One business owner operating in both Avalon and Stone Harbor said the development of the Reeds has helped his Stone Harbor operation significantly. 
The discussion moved back and forth between those who see a boutique hotel as a means of revitalizing the borough’s business community and those who argue the goals of such a hotel are too vague and unproven. 
One resident, Liz Tracy, used public comment at the governing body meeting the day following the Planning and Zoning Board meeting to voice frustration with again delaying the implementation of a boutique hotel. 
“Why not make it a conditional use?” Tracy urged. That suggestion would let each plan stand on its own merits. 
For Martha Wright, who spoke following Tracy, the Planning and Zoning Board’s action was an acknowledgment that “a broader view needs to be taken.” She called the board’s action a “surgical amendment” that failed to take in the larger picture of what the change would do to the community. The amendment Wright referenced was an approved change to the Master Plan in favor of a hotel overlay in the business district.
Although the residents animated by the discussion of the boutique hotel fall broadly into camps of opposition or support, the arguments they expressed show a much more diverse range of opinions. 
Some favor the overlay as a means of energizing the business district. Others speak in favor of allowing boutique hotels in reference to the specific plans proposed for 21st and 22nd streets, as though the general arguments were really meant to support the specific use.
Some in opposition to the allowance of hotels outside the hotel district talk of overly vague goals for aiding the business community, goals they say have not been studied and for which the hotel proposals have never been shown to be a solution. 
Others argue that Avalon should never be compared to Stone Harbor because Avalon was never meant to be like other towns that place an emphasis on a commercial district. They see a residential community they wish to preserve. They reference communities from Sea Isle City to the Hamptons as examples of what could happen to their community if this drive to bring in one or more boutique hotels is successful. 
While many who support the proposed direction seek foot traffic, those opposed cite congestion. What much of it comes down to is a word used by several who spoke at the Planning and Zoning Board meeting: vision. What is the vision for the town’s future and how does the boutique hotel proposal further that vision?
A series of questions continue to drive the debate.
Would a boutique hotel in the business district really do as much harm to the community as those who oppose it claim it will? Would such a hotel really bring the level of foot traffic into the borough that could meaningfully contribute to business district growth? Is the comparison to the Reeds, which from its inception sat on the corner of an already busy commercial zone, apt for Avalon? Will the charge to a hospitality consultant be broad enough to encompass the questions raised or will it be more narrowly focused on fleshing out the specifics of a boutique hotel?  
One set of concerns is reiterated often, both in the public discussion and the private comments that follow. 
Is there widespread opposition to the boutique hotel proposal, as the opponents say, or is it largely a product of a few streets that will be impacted? Those who favor the hotel overlay claim the opposition is limited to the area around the proposed building. 
Conversely, is the proposal to allow a boutique hotel (or hotels) in the business district a broadly conceived vision meant to energize commercial areas, as its supporters claim, or an effort to allow the implementation of one developer’s plans for a specific area of land available for that purpose, as some suggest?
The questions are many. Key will be what the hospitality consultant is asked to do. 
Thoughts? Info? Email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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