Motel Owners Support "Mixed Resort Use" Zoning
This Mixed Resort Use category was first proposed to the Wildwood Crest master plan consultants, Heyer and Graul, P.C. in early June 2005. It is a win-win approach for both the resort striving to maintain motel and hotel lodging for resort visitors, and for motel owners looking for options that make lodging a viable investment option for the future. The proposed classification is consistent with the incentive-disincentive approach to the M-1 district zoning developed by Heyer and Graul to provide planning and zoning incentives for motel and hotel development, rather than additional townhouse condominium development, within the proposed Wildwood Crest motel district.
By qualifying as a Mixed Resort Use motel, a building would receive the same considerations and incentives that are available to motels adding units and expanding or upgrading a motel property in the proposed M-1 district. If the same building were demolished and replaced by condominiums that do not provide tourist lodging, it would not qualify for the M-1 motel district incentives.
Steve Tecco, chairman of the Greater Wildwoods Hotel Motel Association, introduced the concept at the recent Wildwood Crest planning board meeting after spending several weeks developing details of the new building category. He presented the information together with Mark Karavan who represents a group of Wildwood Crest motel owners concerned with future motel operations in that Borough.
Steve presented the concept and the criteria to define the required motel operation for a percentage of the units. "When the motel maintains and operates at least as many motel units as were available before expansion," Steve said, "the building will qualify for the motel incentives in the M-1 zone while being able to build additional condominium units that can be sold to pay for the renovations and expansion."
"The additional condominium units could also operate within a motel rental program as is already done at many motels in the Wildwoods, he said, or they could be used as residences within the building where owners enjoy the motel amenities such as a pool and on-site management, maintenance and security."
Steve pointed out that a win-win situation results for both the property owner and the resort since the owner's return on the conversion makes it more profitable to keep the building than to tear it down. The owner stays in business with an updated and expanded lodging property while the Wildwoods keep their famous motels and grow as a resort. He also noted the concept is not new. "It is common in various forms in many resorts along the coast," Steve said. "It is just somewhat new to the Jersey shore so our proposal formalizes the option not only for Wildwood Crest but for the entire area."
Mark Karavan, Esq. also noted that groups most involved with the motel district and this new Mixed Resort Use category are endorsing and supporting design guidelines to assure the buildings retain their unique designs and character while expanding, adding suites and making other improvements. He pointed out that owners have made lifelong investments and they need alternatives that provide a fair return.
Dan MacElrevey, President of the Doo Wop Preservation League, noted that resorts all along the cost have the same problem. Land values escalate to the point where it is sometimes illogical for owners to turn down a developer's offer for a property. Homes and motels are replaced with street after street of look-alike townhouse condominiums and the entire shore area loses its unique character unless there are realistic options. At the same time, any proposal that does not recognize the motel owner's right to a fair return on their investment will not be adopted and teardowns will continue.
"We need alternatives that make operation and renovation more profitable than demolition," Dan said. "By adopting the proposed zoning classification, the Wildwoods are once again the leader on the shore providing alternatives that work just as we have done during the past ten years with the Tourism District, tourism funding and the convention center"
Presently, the high costs of renovation, and zoning restrictions that actually block motel development, make it difficult for an owner to justify not selling. Buildings from Sandy Hook to Cape May are demolished and owners who would rather continue in the lodging business are practically forced to sell because they have no realistic options. The new Mixed Resort Use proposed for the Wildwoods provides that alternative.
"This can be a model for the entire New Jersey shore struggling to retain its identity as a resort destination," Mr. MacElrevey said at the planning board meeting. "We are fortunate to have more than 8,000 motel rooms and our group wants to keep these unique and nationally famous Doo Wop style properties and the resort lifestyle we all enjoy. The Mixed Resort Use proposal should be adopted quickly to provide an option for both current owners and investors who would purchase and operate the buildings as motels and condo-motels."
Motel owners report daily comments from guests who are unhappy about continuing demolition. Visitors do not feel motels are being torn down. They see a resort being demolished. Once these mid-century motels and other great lodging properties are gone, they are gone forever and the Wildwoods are no longer a destination resort. We must find a way to keep the 8,000 motel rooms needed to accommodate more than two million visitors every year.
Steve Tecco and the Greater Wildwood Hotel Motel Association urged the Borough of Wildwood Crest to adopt the M-1 district with all the zoning changes proposed in joint position papers presented by the three groups. "Almost everyone involved in the district is in agreement," Steve stated, "so we must act quickly to establish the Mixed Resort Use category and adopt M-1 district proposals before it is too late. Frankly, we are united on this plan and there is no good reason not to move quickly to implement the M-1 proposals and the Mixed Resort Use category."