By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
After a marathon hearing that ended at midnight, the Sea Isle City Zoning Board delayed voting on a proposed hotel project that would replace the landmark LaCosta Lounge and dramatically transform the main entryway into the beach resort.
“We aren’t really supposed to go beyond midnight,” Patricia Urbaczewski, zoning board vice chairwoman, said at the conclusion of the five-hour meeting Tuesday.
The board directed the developers to return at the Feb. 3 meeting to submit their revised plans for parking and a loading zone to serve the hotel complex. The board is expected to vote on the project then, including a series of zoning variances that the developers have requested.
Known as “The Ludlam,” the project will include a 46-suite hotel, a restaurant, an outdoor bar and banquet space for special events such as weddings. The hotel complex would be built in place of the LaCosta Lounge, the well-known shore bar and nightclub that has occupied the site for about 50 years.
Business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris bought LaCosta Lounge for $7.3 million in 2018 with the intention of redeveloping the property at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue.
They have indicated they would like to demolish the LaCosta late this year to begin construction on the hotel. In the meantime, LaCosta continues to operate.
When it opened in the 1960s, the LaCosta was built on the same spot where some of Sea Isle’s most historic businesses once stood, including the former Bellevue Hotel and Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant dating to the late 1800s.
Glancey said The Ludlam will continue the transformation of the high-profile corner into a new attraction that reflects the needs of Sea Isle’s evolving tourism market. It would represent the first new hotel built in Sea Isle since the 1970s or ’80s, he noted.
“It needs to be redone, and it needs to be redone in the right way. And the right way is a hotel and a restaurant,” Glancey said of his redevelopment plan for the prominent location.
In testimony to the zoning board, Glancey estimated it will take 18 months to build the project.
“It’s a big building,” he said.
As envisioned, The Ludlam represents the next generation of commercial development for the primary gateway to the downtown business district. The hotel would look to cater to families and other Sea Isle vacationers by offering them all-suite lodging ranging from one to three bedrooms.
“We’re trying to create a destination hotel,” Andrew Bechtold, an architect for Glancey and Morris, told the zoning board during a presentation.
Portraying the project as a new upscale anchor for Sea Isle’s downtown area, Bechtold added, “We’re not throwing up an Econo Lodge.”
Glancey and Morris took control of a 1.25-acre site when they bought the LaCosta Lounge. The deal also included the adjacent Coast Motel, the Casino Pizzeria and the surrounding parking lot. All of the existing buildings will be demolished to make room for The Ludlam.
Both supporters and opponents of the project turned out at the zoning board meeting. In public comments, both sides offered sharply contrasting views of what they believe are the benefits or drawbacks of having a project that everyone agrees will redefine Sea Isle’s skyline.
John Divney, a former Sea Isle councilman, predicted The Ludlam will add some “wow factor” to the city. He said it would complement a series of public improvements built by the city as part of its “beach to bay project” that beautified the main corridor into town.
“What this project is going to do, in my mind, is put the icing on the cake with the beach to bay project,” Divney said.
However, critics argued that the project would simply be too big. They are hoping Glancey and Morris would be willing to reduce the size based on the objections of opponents.
“I agree we need development. But do we need to super-size?” said Michael Carr who lives at 40th Street and Central Avenue.
Supporters believe the hotel will be a catalyst for more visitors to come to Sea Isle and spend their money at the local shops, bars and restaurants.
John Fee, a local real estate agent and member of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, said the hotel will help to compensate for a shortage of rental properties in town.
As Sea Isle has become more affluent in recent years, a trend has emerged in which wealthy second homeowners are using their houses exclusively for themselves instead of renting them out to visitors for weeklong summer vacations. As a result, there are not enough rental properties to serve the market, creating a strong need for a new hotel, supporters say.
However, opponents raised concerns about possible construction disruptions, parking shortages, traffic congestion and extra noise created by the project.
“I just see chaos in this area,” said Amy Procaccino, who owns a vacation home on 40th Street, right next to the proposed hotel site.
Procaccino and her husband, Dan, hired an attorney and professional planner to represent them at the zoning board meeting. Their attorney and planner argued against some of the zoning variances sought for the project.
Among the approximately 12 variances they are seeking, Glancey and Morris are looking to exceed the maximum building height of 40 feet and also want to include extra signage on the property. They are also requesting variances to have stacked parking and to offer kitchenettes in 20 of the 46 hotel suites.
There will be a total of 93 parking spaces to serve The Ludlam’s entire hotel, restaurant and bar complex, more than the city’s minimum requirement of 84 spaces for a project of this size. But some of them would be stacked parking, which requires a variance.
“When they have so many variances, I just think it’s unfair,” said Beth Mog, a resident of 46th Place who opposes the project.
Responding to critics, Glancey told the zoning board members and the public that he has no intention of harming the surrounding neighborhoods with the hotel. He said development projects don’t succeed unless they benefit the neighborhoods.
“The idea here is to make it better,” he testified.
Other parts of Sea Isle have already been transformed by development projects owned by Glancey and Morris. They specialize in mixed-use projects that combine restaurant or retail space on the first floor with high-end condominiums on the top two stories.
They are best known for their Dunes, Cove and Cape mixed-use developments lining the Landis Avenue corridor in Sea Isle’s Townsends Inlet section.