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Council also approves septic bill map for town


Staff writer

The North Beach Town Council is moving forward with two major projects that council members hope will bring new people to the town while keeping the current small-town feel.

For the past several months, a steering committee has been meeting Saturday mornings to come up with a plan to develop a new performing arts center on the corner of 7th Street and Bay Avenue, where Nice and Fleazy Antique Center currently stands.

“This is a big deal, ladies and gentlemen,” Mayor Mark Frazer told the audience during a council meeting Thursday night. “This could really change the face of North Beach, much like the North Beach Resort has the potential to do.”

During the meeting, members of the steering committee gave the council an update on the next steps with regard to the operation of the facility. Phil McCormick gave a brief presentation to show residents a model of what the three-story center could possibly look like.

The top floor included an open space for visitors to enjoy the view and a restaurant, which would be accessed by two passenger elevators or a 5-foot-wide staircase. The theater and the lobby would be on the second floor of the building. On the first floor, a kitchen and an open area could be used for banquets or receptions.

Steering committee member Peggy McKelly presented a proposal to the council for the creation of a foundation as a nonprofit corporation “to essentially manage the theater portion” of the center. She said the proposal included an initial three-person board of directors, of which Frazer will be the president. Each board member will serve two-year terms, she said, and recommended someone from the town council always be one member of the board.

After an advisory board, “which hopefully will begin with the committee that’s been working on this for months,” is formed, McKelly said a fundraising committee will be created. The intent, she said, would be for the foundation to work in partnership with the town to both build and operate the facility, which would be operational by 2015.

Prior to the facility being built, McKelly said the foundation would develop relationships with local performing arts organizations, which would become the “resident companies” for the theater. The foundation would also market to other performing arts centers in the county as well as in the surrounding counties.

McKelly said part of what would be done to raise funds for the operation of the facility would be to create a contributing membership organization through mechanisms including special prices on tickets or special performances.

A “couple of key assumptions,” McKelly said, are that the town would own and operate the facility and would arrange the financing to construct the facility. Use of the facility would start at about 30 percent, she said, and after a time period of five to eight years, use of the theater would hopefully be at about 100 percent, with performances happening at least three weekends a month.

Ann Lopiano, an attorney helping the steering committee with the formation of the nonprofit organization, said there are about seven steps for the foundation to become a nonprofit.

Once the foundation’s board of directors is determined, the next step is to procure the money to submit necessary documents to the state of Maryland. Then, the articles will be taken to the state, which will approve and certify them. Once they’re accepted, she said, the board will need to have its first meeting and adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy. After a 27-page IRS application is filled out, the documents approved by the state can also then be submitted to the IRS for approval.

Resort development plan approved

Representatives from RAR Associates presented a development plan for a hotel resort to the council Thursday night, and the council unanimously approved the plan to move forward in preparation for a category 1 site plan to be reviewed by the planning commission.

Ron Russo of RAR Associates said providing all financing falls into place, groundbreaking for the proposed project is scheduled for next year, with a completion date of 2015.

Elena Russo, also of RAR Associates, showed town residents sketches of what the proposed hotel at 5th Street and Bay Avenue could look like.

A tree-lined entryway at Chesapeake Avenue will lead visitors to the front of the building, Elena Russo said. On the north side of the property, visitors will find an “expansive garden area” available for outdoor events, and on the south side of the property there will be a pool and a 1,000-square-foot fitness center, both of which potentially will be available to both hotel guests and town residents, according to the sketch.

Inside the building, a commercial space of 4,950 square feet will house two restaurants, she said, and there will be 63 guest rooms, 13 of which will be upgraded to suites, available for guests.

Upstairs, visitors will find a 12,000-square-foot bar and lounge area, according to the proposed design. Outside of that area, a 4,000-square-foot banquet room will be available and across the corridor will be meeting rooms, Russo said. A “breakout space” will be “married up” to an events porch, which will be enclosed in glass for events any time of the year, she said. A kitchen will provide service to the banquet and meeting rooms.

Dan Kelsh of Collinson, Oliff & Associates Inc. said all of the land uses are permitted by the zoning ordinance and the building meets all setback and height requirements. There is a 50-foot height restriction in that zone and the roof height is below that, but the central tower stands at 54 feet. He said, “because it’s an architectural feature, that’s captured in the ordinance as permitable from that.” He said the elevation of the building is lower than Southwinds roofline. The parking requirements for the structure are all met on site, he said, with 118 parking spaces.

A few citizens in the audience expressed concerns about parking for hotel employees and increased traffic the resort will bring to the town.

Council member Mike Benton said, “I hope out of this will come a lot of things” to the town, including local residents getting hired at the hotel, availability of the pool and the fitness center to residents and new businesses.

“This is a big day,” Benton said. “Up to this point, we’ve done a lot of great things … but this truly will affect every citizen in North Beach. … Everybody will experience that traffic and everybody will experience what we’re going to see. I do believe it has a very big upside to it.”

Council member Greg McNeill said a lot of small towns have “adhered to a ‘nothing new’ policy,” and with gaining nothing new, “a lot of the old has boarded up and gone away.”

“A ghost town isn’t any more fun to live in than an overly developed town,” he said. “I don’t know that this is somehow counter to the small town philosophy that everybody loves about North Beach. I just think this happens to be maybe a newer component to our small town philosophy.”

The town already experiences increased traffic with the Friday Night Farmers Market, said council member Ken Wilcox.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone here in this room that thinks that market is a bad idea because we’ve had increased traffic,” he said, adding that he thinks the idea of building a hotel is “wonderful” and is “definitely needed.”

Council member Randy Hummel said he didn’t “have a whole lot of heartburn about the project” but was concerned about the onsite parking. He said he did not believe traffic from hotel guests would be any heavier than from the farmers market.

“I truly see this hotel as an anchor … for bringing people in,” said council member Gwen Schiada. “This idea, this concept, is the best that we’ve seen so far.”

Council member Greg Dotson said he supports the project “100 percent.” While he understands concern about increased traffic, “the people that are coming to the hotel are not going to converge all at one time.”

The council unanimously approved the development plans for the category 1 site plan.

Septic bill map approved

The council also approved the submission of a map outlining what tiers the town falls under with regard to the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, or the septic bill.

Town engineer Jon Hofmann said the bill “is to give control powers of new subdivisions in rural areas of the state where the subdivisions cannot be served by sewer systems.” He said new subdivisions will need to connect to community sewage systems with advanced treatment or may not be able to be developed.

The tiers that are appropriate for the town, Hofmann said, are tier 1, which are areas served by sewerage systems, and tier 2, which are areas that are not served by sewerage systems but could be or could not develop. Most of the town is classified as tier 1, he said, with exceptions at the north end of town, which include wetlands that cannot be developed and the Walton parcel at the end of Frederick Avenue, both classified as tier 2.

The council unanimously approved the submission of the map to the state.