CAPE MAY – Will condominiums take over this historic town?
Listening to real estate salespersons and some motel owners at an Oct. 4 city council meeting, conversion to condos may be seen as a remedy for struggling motels and bed and breakfast (B and B) inns here.
Council delayed introducing an ordinance that would have required those wishing to change the use of their motel, hotel, or B and B to a condo to make application to the zon-ing board, particularly if they are located in a zone that does not permit multi-family resi-dences.
City Solicitor Tony Monzo said a new ordinance would not prohibit condo conversions, which are permitted by state law, but address a change of use, which happens when a ho-tel, motel, or inn loses all features of a hotel such as a front desk or daily maid service.
“Even without the ordinance, there is a body of case law out there that regulates changes in use,” said Monzo.
A property owner converting to condo use could apply to the zoning board for a variance, he said.
Monzo said a condo conversion that retains features of a hotel-motel would not be a change of use and rentals would still be subject to the city’s room tax. He said B and Bs converted back to single family homes in a zone where they were permitted would not be an issue, but a hotel converting to multi-family use would be an issue if the zone did not permit that use.
Motel owner Gus Andy blamed the city’s room tax for a decline in tourism. He said half the B and Bs in the city were for sale and the other half were converting to other uses.
“You are compelling, you’re telling, dictating the market to do nothing but convert,” said Andy.
George Loper, president of the Hotel-Motel-Lodging Association of Cape May, said his or-ganization was vigorously opposed to a condo ordinance. He said it would reduce the value of properties.
Loper said it was impossible to revamp and operate small motels as motels “in this day and age.” He said any loss in room tax would be gained in tax ratables.
“We can’t compete. Particularly, the young people want amenities now, the hot tubs, the pools, overlooking the ocean, things that many of us can’t give them,” said Loper.
Councilman David Brown said the purpose of the ordinance was to protect the city from such projects as condominiums that replaced the Christmas Island shop.
“We’re not shutting off the tap, we’re trying to slow the process down,” he said. “I feel that I have a responsibility as a National Historic Landmark town to protect what this town is.”
Robert Steenrod, marketing chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, said the organization opposed the ordinance.
Guesthouse owner Barbara Skinner called for an ordinance that limits new construction.
Larry Muentz, owner of Alexander’s Inn, said his property has been for sale for two years and “the only people that looked at the building, wanted to hack it into condos.”
He said the Driftwood Motel was assessed by the city before it was converted to condos for $2.3 million, netting the city $5,400 in taxes. After conversion to condo, it is now as-sessed at $6.3 million, bringing the city $14,000 in annual taxes, said Muentz.
Mayor Jerome E. Inderwies said he was not totally satisfied the way the ordinance was written. He said the economy of the nation has changed and the needs of those who visit Cape May have changed as well.
Councilman David Craig said if residents do not want the city to be full of condominiums, there is a cost to it, perhaps a 1 or 2 cent increase in their taxes.
Council introduced an ordinance to adopt a list of historic homes in the city prepared 10 years ago for the historic preservation commission.
“To me, this is at best a poor stopgap measure,” said Deputy Mayor Niels Favre.
He urged a new survey of historic homes be prepared as soon as grant funding becomes available.
In November 2004, HPC declared a survey prepared by Cultural Research Service of North Wales, Pa., unacceptable due to numerous inaccuracies.
Inderwies announced that trick or treat night in Cape May will be Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m.