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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

‘It looks like a black and white Hotel 6’: $5M expansion questioned by OKI council

The 20,000-square-foot addition to Ocean Crest Hotel would be 51 rooms, three-stories and located on 1.82 acres at 1425 East Beach. It would expand upon the 43 rooms already present in three buildings. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — Plans for an expansion of a hotel on Oak Island were sent back to the drawing board for aesthetic changes for review again next month.

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

A quasi-judicial hearing was held Tuesday in front of town council regarding a required special use permit to construct a $5 million addition to a beachfront hotel. The 20,000-square-foot addition to Ocean Crest Hotel would be 51 rooms, three-stories and located on 1.82 acres at 1425 East Beach. It would expand upon the 43 rooms already present in three buildings. 

Kuntal Gandhi purchased the hotel with three buildings and a pool on the property around three years ago. He said the prior owner had constructed a building that burned down around 2019 and he would be recreating the structure; it would not require demolition of other buildings. Gandhi applied for a special use permit to construct another building in a commercial recreation district, a necessary step for authorization in the zoning. 

It was unanimously voted by the Oak Island Town Council to recess and return to the hotel permit in March when the plans were adjusted to make recommended changes and fill in missing information. The main points of contention from the town council revolved around the plans clashing aesthetically with surrounding buildings and lack of details presented.  

“What effort has been made to make this building harmonious, when presented in black and white as it is, it looks like a Hotel 6, I mean, it doesn’t speak very well of your firm, certainly not what the community would embrace as being harmonious with the surrounding area,” Mayor Elizabeth White said.

“This looks like something that landed from Mars,” Mayor Pro Tempore John Bach said. 

The hotel plans have a mostly modernist aesthetic with hard, rectangular shapes and surfaces, contrasting with older businesses like Ocean Crest Fishing Pier and Island Way restaurant, as well as a mix of nearby cottages and three-story homes.

Gandhi said he was undertaking the project with a group of people with up to 30 years of experience.  “We are not associated with a big company,” he said and expects the project to cost at least $5 million.

While Gandhi was present at the meeting, Tom Murphy of Olive Architecture spoke on his behalf; the council criticized the plans for lacking specific details. Planning Director Matt Kirkland said based on his review of the application, the planning staff did not have enough information about landscaping, the building façade, and lighting, and would need more for a complete evaluation. 

However, Murphy said the drawings specified the development would comply, even if the specifications were detailed.

“Why would we be presenting an incomplete application?” Bach asked Kirkland. 

“When someone applies for a special use permit and has a plan associated with it, we put that through a review at our technical review committee to determine, as I just mentioned, if it meets the ordinance requirements or not,” Kirkland explained. “Should the applicant get those comments back and say we want to come before town council anyway, I don’t really have a mechanism to stop that from happening. What would happen is what’s happening right now: I tell you the application is missing certain items we would need to fully evaluate it.”  

Murphy said he was unaware a full layout was needed in the site plan to come before the board.

Council member Bill Craft asked the architect to confer with Gandhi and return in March with its “full-blown rendering.” Bach summarized the council’s requests; Murphy needed the sketch of the hotel showing the structure in relation to the surrounding environment and add in consideration for buildings in the vicinity. 

“This is technically compliant,” Bach explained. “But it could be such an outlier, aesthetically and architecturally, to be incongruent — to use councilor Cartner’s phrase, ‘not in harmony.’”

Non-aesthetic compliance requirements for a special use permit according to the city’s form include not endangering public safety or health, adequate utilities and roads, measures to minimize traffic congestion, sufficient drainage and parking, and not impeding the development of surrounding properties. 

Bach encouraged Murphy to visit the area to better integrate the proposed hotel with the style of the extant buildings. 

Port City Daily reached out to Gandhi to ask about the council’s comments. He said he is taking them into consideration, though he was not trying to “glorify or beautify this property.” 

“Make us want to say ‘That is a beautiful structure, it is in harmony with the rest of its surroundings,’” White said at the meeting. 

The board decided to table the development and approach it again with the addition of the absent information and a plan that “integrates new with old,” according to Bach. 

“That word, ‘harmony,’ is the make or break,” White said, adding if the council voted that night, she would have moved against it. 

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