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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Upper Zoning Board Denies Strathmere Hotel Application

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By Camille Sailer

PETERSBURG – Upper Township’s Zoning Board met May 13 for what all hoped to be a definitive answer as to whether owner Stephen Maloney’s application to redevelop the present Strathmere Motel, at 513 Commonwealth Ave., could proceed. 
Four previous meetings elicited professional testimony from land-use experts and input from over 100 Strathmere residents during public comment periods. 
This fifth and final meeting gave Maloney’s attorney, as well as the legal counsel for an affected and opposing neighbor, the opportunity to make final arguments. 
Tiffany Morrissey, the Zoning Board’s expert, set the stage to kick off the meeting with “positive and negative checklist items” she described for the board’s findings of fact. 
Ultimately, the board voted, with three ayes and four nays, to deny Maloney’s application to proceed with the project. 
Morrissey explained to the seven members of the board and the numerous individuals who attended the meeting virtually that the primary issue before the decision-makers was to balance the interests of the community versus the property owner’s desire to build the new hotel. 
“Before you are concepts of what is the general welfare and the betterment of the entire community and how do these fit the overall scheme of the township’s master plan,” explained Morrissey. “Is there substantial detriment or impairment, and what are the benefits of this proposal regarding flood standards, for example, and the transient nature of the hotel itself? So, what you have before you is a huge job in evaluating witness credibility and evidence,” she continued. 
Legal counsel for an opposing neighbor provided graphic photographs buttressing vehement resistance to Maloney’s proposed hotel and application seeking height and signage variances. 
“The quality of life for the village of Strathmere will be severely and adversely impacted if this massive building comes to reality,” he said, as he showed photos of sunsets that would be obstructed. 
“The applicant wants to cash in with no consideration for the neighbors with a project that drastically and negatively affects the quality of life, air, natural vegetation, parking, congestion and related safety issues for movement of emergency vehicles. This project simply does not fit the village character of Strathmere,” he concluded. 
Maloney’s lawyer presented the benefits of the proposed hotel. 
“Land use is forward-looking from today to 50 years and beyond, which means the board must take into account the advantages of replacing a dilapidated existing structure that is an eyesore that cannot be renovated with a modern and stylish building. 
“As currently zoned, a restaurant is ok, which would attract numerous more people each day, so why not this project?” he asked. 
“The project will be on the main thoroughfare of Strathmere, it is reasonably sized – this structure is smaller than a house that could be put there,” he continued, showing over 40 photographs of out-sized houses that he said opposing residents termed “cottages,” but were “fear tactics designed to protect what they have but don’t want anyone else to have.” 
Board members presented their findings based on  presentations from the four prior meetings by expert witnesses, the attorneys, and the 107 individuals who spoke during public comment. 
The three board members in favor of the project noted the current preexisting use of the site as a motel, that there would be an attractive building design, with generous landscape buffers and that overall, the proposed use as a hotel would provide an attractive amenity to  Strathmere, as a seaside resort and tourist destination. 
The four members who voted no, thereby denying the application, were uniformly critical of the adverse effects this type of hotel and the building itself would have on the tranquil atmosphere of Strathmere. 
They reiterated the numerous arguments made over the deliberations by neighbors that the project simply did not support what Strathmere represents as a tranquil, historic village and did not further any overall community interest for the desired variances to be approved. 
All participants stated their appreciation for themeetings’ thorough and civil tenor as conducted by the board, whose members are all volunteers. 
Upon rendering of the decision to deny the application, Maloney’s attorney stated he and his client were not yet sure if they would appeal the outcome.
To contact Camille Sailer, email csailer@cmcherald.com.

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