Board Rejects Surf City Hotel Outdoor Dining Request

Apr 04, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Inside dining is still available at the hotel.

After more than four hours of professional and public testimony, the Surf City Land Use Board denied an application by the owners of the Surf City Hotel for outdoor dining. Saying the owners did not satisfy the requirements for a use variance, the board voted, 4-to-1, to reject that request and by extension variances for other items, including parking.

The decision came after owner Greg Gewirtz amended his application to address concerns from nearby residential neighbors, including shutting down the proposed deck at 9 p.m. to everyone, stopping all outdoor music at 8 p.m., making sure any outdoor lighting does not adversely impact neighboring homes and prohibiting smoking. The Surf City Hotel is a three-story hotel with a restaurant and a liquor store. It occupies the entire block between Eight and Ninth streets, fronting Long Beach Boulevard.

Gewirtz and his wife Colleen, who bought the hotel last April, sought to build a two-tiered outdoor dining deck for approximately 60 people. The deck was to be accessible from the street on the Eighth Street side of the structure and from the Beach Club. The tiers were designed to be separated by a few steps, making it more accessible from the inside since it has a tiered dining room. Gerwitz testified they were seeking to offer customers a place to enjoy the outdoors for lunch and dinner. There would be a counter to accommodate diners but no bar serving alcohol.

“It’s more about being outdoors than it is about music,” Gewirtz said.

Although the board did not vote on a variance for parking, a discussion about the lack of spaces took up a good portion of the meeting. The hotel is required to have more than 150 parking spaces onsite to accommodate guests, diners, employees and liquor store customers. It has 18. Its location in a cutout that runs parallel to Long Beach Boulevard has long been considered in the parking equation for the hotel despite other businesses in the area and the municipal building across the street. Those parking spots are also used regularly by summer beachgoers.

Both customers and employees of the hotel, including Kristy Raber, a 14-year veteran bartender at the hotel, testified they walk to the hotel or ride their bicycles.

“If there aren’t enough parking spaces people will go somewhere else,” Raber said, adding many people use the shuttle to get around the Island, though many of those same people are spending “all their money in Beach Haven” because Surf City is the only Island community that doesn’t allow outdoor dining.

Dan Malay, owner of How You Brewin’ in the borough, said not having the ability to offer outside dining is a hardship for many small business owners in the seaside community.

“More than 98 percent of our members,” Malay, also president of the Surf City Business Cooperative, “say it’s challenging. The number one feature visitors want to know is where they can dine outdoors.”

Rich Visotcky, attorney for the applicants, said he was reluctant to have the application heard March 28 after three board members recused themselves from hearing it, leaving just five board members to approve or deny the use variance. Five votes in the affirmative were required for the use variance to be approved. Typically, that doesn’t present a problem on the 11-member board (there are nine regular members and two alternates).

However, two members, chairman Peter Hartney and member James Russell, are sitting members of the borough council, which will hear any appeal. By law, they had to recuse themselves from the hearing and left the room prior to testimony beginning. Board member Fred Peters lives within 250 feet of the Surf City Hotel and also recused himself, leaving a total of five sitting board members to consider the application. Earlier that day, longtime board member Barbara Sedlacek passed away.

“The board has a quorum,” Quinlan said prior to the hearing getting underway. “Many people traveled a distance” to be in attendance.

Visotcky noted this clients’ chances of approval increase with more than five sitting members voting and asked if there would ever be more than the bare minimum to vote on the issue.

“We can’t guarantee next month will be any different,” Quinlan said, noting with Sedlacek’s passing the board has two vacancies to fill.

Even before the meeting began, Hartney, after noting there were more people in the room March 28 than he’s seen in the entire 20 years he’s served on the board, outlined how the land use board works.

“We are a quasi-judicial body,” he said, noting the process for an applicant is to testified before the board and at the appropriate time the public would be allowed to comment on that application only. “Each application is different. We don’t do (approve or deny) based on what has been decided before.”

The first level of appeal is to the governing body, Quinlan said, noting the zoning ordinances are expected to be reviewed and revised this year with recommendations being made to the borough council.

— Gina G. Scala

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