By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Capping nearly three hours of discussion and debate, the Sea Isle City Zoning Board on Monday night approved an all-suite hotel that represents a new wave of development catering to the beach town’s more upscale tourism market.
Known as The Ludlam, the project will feature a hotel, restaurant, banquet space and an outdoor bar at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue, the main gateway to the city’s downtown business district.
The four-story hotel will take the place of the landmark LaCosta Lounge, an old-school nightclub that has occupied the same corner for about 50 years.
Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris, the hotel developers, bought the LaCosta for $7.3 million in 2018 and announced plans to replace it with a new centerpiece attraction that reflects the city’s growing demand for more high-end vacation lodging for families.
The Ludlam would be the first new hotel built in Sea Isle since the 1970s or ’80s, Glancey said. LaCosta Lounge is expected to be demolished this fall to make room for the hotel, setting the stage for a dramatic transformation of the high-profile corner.
“What is there now? It’s horrendous. It’s not attractive,” Patricia Urbaczewski, the zoning board’s vice chair, said while referring to LaCosta.
Jacqueline Elko, another zoning board member, said The Ludlam symbolizes the “raising the bar” of Sea Isle’s hotel accommodations.
“I think we desperately need hotel rooms in this town,” Elko said.
After almost three hours of presentations and debate among supporters and opponents of the project, the board granted a total of 10 zoning variances sought by Glancey and Morris. The vote, however, was not always unanimous among the five zoning members.
They split 3-2 while approving one variance that will allow the hotel to rise about 4 feet higher than the city’s maximum building height of 40 feet. The dissenting members questioned whether the hotel would simply be too tall.
Another variance that will allow the hotel to include kitchenettes in 20 of the 46 suites was approved by a 4-1 vote. The kitchenettes would be a key part of the hotel’s efforts to attract vacationing families who want the option of preparing their own meals instead of eating out.
Other variances dealing with the building’s signage, architectural features, front yard setback and landscaping passed by 5-0 margins.
In an interview after the meeting, Morris expressed his gratitude to the zoning board and members of the public for their feedback on the project, including pointing out what he said were some “flaws” in the hotel’s original plans.
“We’re doing this project for us, obviously. But we also think this project will suit the city very well,” Morris said of how he and Glancey are looking to improve Sea Isle.
Morris said he hopes The Ludlam will have the same impact on Sea Isle that the luxury hotel resort The Reeds at Shelter Haven has had on Stone Harbor. Oprah Winfrey stays at The Reeds when she visits the Jersey Shore.
Morris and Glancey revised key elements of their hotel complex to address concerns and objections raised by the zoning board and local residents when The Ludlam was first reviewed during a five-hour zoning meeting on Jan. 21.
In their revised plans, they reduced the height of the building by about 3 feet, cut the number of “bookable rooms” from a total of 86 to 74 and also eliminated plans for stacked parking to serve the hotel. Stacked parking would have required a variance.
Although the hotel will have 46 suites, the number of “bookable rooms” or units will be 74 because the suites will include one, two or three bedrooms.
Altogether, there will be 74 parking spaces, meeting the requirement for a hotel having 74 rooms.
Construction of the hotel will follow LaCosta’s demolition, which is tentatively scheduled for September or October. It will take around 18 months to finish the project, Morris said.
Supporters and opponents of the hotel presented sharply contrasting views of the project during public comments to the zoning board. However, they did agree that a project of this magnitude will dramatically redefine Sea Isle’s skyline.
Critics said the hotel is simply too big, while also expressing fears about possible construction disruptions, parking shortages, traffic congestion and extra noise created by the project. They argued that the board should not have approved any zoning variances for Morris and Glancey.
“The fact that they have the arrogance to come here and ask for any variances, in my opinion, is wrong,” said Bill Baker, a Sea Isle resident.
Angel Dalrymple, another resident, wanted the zoning board to reject all of the variances to force Morris and Glancey to “go back to the drawing board.”
Supporters, though, said the hotel will serve as a catalyst for Sea Isle’s tourism industry. They believe it will draw new visitors who will spend their money in the local shops, bars and restaurants.
“I think this is the wow factor. I think it’s going to be great for the town and everyone is going to benefit,” said John Divney, a former city councilman.
Another supporter, John Fee, a local realtor who serves as vice president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, said the hotel will help compensate for a shortage of rental properties in town.
“We need short-term rentals. We need quality short-term rentals,” Fee said. “It’s something severely needed in this town for the sake of business.”