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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Oak Island council approves 106-room hotel, residents protest scale and traffic impacts

Oak Island Town Council approved a special use permit leading the way for a 50,000-square-foot hotel. (Courtesy/Oak Island)

OAK ISLAND — A new hotel will be hitting the shores of a Brunswick beach town after Oak Island council members approved a special use permit for the development last night.

Demarest Company Landscape Architects is proposing a 50,000-square-foot hotel, called Boardwalk Place, on the northwest corner of E. Dolphin Drive and Third Place East in Oak Island. Boardwalk Place is designed to offer 106 rooms, plus more than 5,000 square feet for a restaurant and almost 10,000 square feet dedicated to two retail spaces. 

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Owned by Scott Stewart, Demarest Company is behind several notable developments in the Cape Fear including Wrightsville Beach Park, Barclay West, Arboretum West and Arboretum Village, along with several housing projects. 

Although the 4.17-acre property — one of the only large vacant tracts between the Davis Canal and Atlantic Ocean — is zoned for the commercial business district, a special-use permit is required due to the project’s potential of incompatibility with surrounding land uses. Oak Island Town Council held a quasi-judicial hearing that began on Feb. 13, which continued and rendered a decision Monday night. 

Last month, residents packed the Oak Island council’s boardroom to contest the hotel; the hearing lasted four hours. Concerns arose over the traffic impacts of the development — a traffic impact analysis is not required to issue a special use permit — and fear the final result would be drastically different from the proposed plan.

“A 106-room complex in a residential area near a major beach intersection does not conform at all,” resident Kelly Germane said in the hearing. “Let’s not further dismantle what we have left of the Oak Island we love.”

Scott Stewart and the project’s attorney Grady Richardson, a former Oak Island resident, were present at the hearing on Monday night to answer questions. They both maintained they hoped the proposal could be an example of how commercial development should be in harmony with the community on Oak Island. 

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Stewart’s application states “Boardwalk Place is in harmony with the existing development pattern” in that it’s located just 350 feet from Middleton Avenue Bridge and its proximity to two existing commercial uses, the Beach Pantry convenience store and an Elks Lodge. Stewart claims the proposed building elevation, 35 feet, and building materials are a “seamless, visual match” to the existing architectural features of the surrounding area. 

“If it’s not well done, it’s not going to have a good chance of succeeding economically,” Richardson said during the hearing.

Per town ordinance, special use permits must be evaluated based on criteria set forth in  the ordinance, such as granting the permit will not endanger the public and conform with existing development. Council members may set “reasonable conditions to the location, nature, and extent” of the proposed use. 

Conditions — many of which were asserted in the initial application — include public access to the community for the boardwalk, splash pad, retail and restaurant, public improvements to be built before or alongside the hotel, the wastewater system built on the developer’s dime and deeded to the city, among other discussed items. 

Parking for the hotel’s guests — numbering 198 spaces — would be screened underneath the hotel, reducing the amount of impervious surface on the property. While those spaces include allocations for retail shoppers and restaurant diners, Stewart is also proposing to add 19 public parking spaces for town ownership on Third Place East. 

Although not required, the developers put together a traffic impact analysis that found the hotel project would generate 1,7000 trips at the nearby intersection of Dolphin Drive and Third Place. In contrast, the study found a supermarket —  permitted by right — built on the property would generate 1,000 more trips. 

Hotel amenities include a 12,800-square-foot courtyard with a swimming pool, splash pad, outdoor bar and firepits. However, the application boasts  public connectivity as well. 

Along with the public parking, the proposal includes the enhancement of sidewalks on Middleton Avenue, East Dolphin Drive and Third Place to provide safe beach access; Stewart is also proposing a Wildlife Sanctuary Park comprising the property’s 1.75 acres of wetlands, to be traversed via a 6-foot boardwalk with wildlife stations. 

“I love the idea of a wildlife sanctuary; my concern is for supervision,” Mayor Elizabeth White said during the hearing. 

She advocated for hotel staff dedicated to protecting wildlife and curbing detrimental human behavior; Stewart assured her boardwalk guides would be present in the sanctuary. 

For utilities, the developer has agreed to construct a lift station specific for the project, which will generate around 32,000 gallons of wastewater. Although not the nearest dropoff location, the main sewer station will receive the routed water because of capacity issues. After construction, the hotel’s station will be deeded to the town.

The developers maintain their intentions are to build their hotel according to the plans and renderings presented, permits allowing, while also incorporating public benefit in the design.

“I don’t see how anyone can come before this council and do it better than my client,” Richardson said. 

Council members were concerned with potential negative impacts to surrounding neighbors, such as lighting designs, boardwalk maintenance and the guarantee of street improvements. 

Mayor Pro Tem John Bach, intent on holding the developers accountable to their proposed plan, also asked if the hotel was tied to a corporate entity. While it is not at this time, the owner could sell it in the future; the developers clarified it was in talks to become part of the Hilton brand.

“If it’s not well done, it’s not going to have a good chance of succeeding economically,” Richardson said. “I don’t see how anyone can come before this council and do it better than my client.”

Ultimately, the council voted to approve the special use permit.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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