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Thursday, May 30, 2024

From dispute to decision: OKI hotel approved for expansion

Council voted 3-2 in favor of granting approval for hotel owner Kuntal Gandhi to construct a three-story, 20,000 square foot addition to the existing Ocean Crest Motel with conditions. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — After months of consideration, delays, and some intense discussion, the Oak Island Town Council has approved a special building permit for a hotel expansion. 

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

Council voted 3-2 in favor of granting approval for hotel owner Kuntal Gandhi to construct a three-story, 20,000 square foot addition to the existing Ocean Crest Motel with conditions. Gandhi told Port City Daily in February the expansion will cost around $5 million. 

It had to pass many hurdles before the resolution. For instance, the hotel expansion was discussed thrice since December and postponed from a canceled meeting. No one signed up to speak previously.

There were questions about protocol for a quasi-judicial hearing, such as whether people could speak — they can. Last month, it led to heated banter between the council and Gary Richardson, Gandhi’s lawyer, who called evidence that people may present at that time “incompetent and insubstantial.” 

Councilman Bob Ciullo misunderstood the comment.

“Next time you come into Council, please refrain from referring to the citizens of Oak Island as incompetent,” Ciullo said in March. “I’m deeply, deeply offended by that comment.”

Richardson apologized but clarified his comment.

“The legal standard is whether or not the evidence submitted is competent, substantial material,” Richardson replied. “You sir, can be the most competent artist in the world. But to get up and talk about stormwater, you’re not competent on that subject matter … I would never call someone who’s an opponent merely by being an opponent incompetent — that is offensive.”

“Words matter,” Ciullo said, to which Richardson responded: “No, the law matters.”

State law mandates that anyone with “standing” can speak at quasi-judicial hearings — the applicant, government officials, anyone that will receive “special damages” based on the decision. However, governing bodies can allow those without standing to speak, and they often do to gather the most diverse information possible. 

During the March 12 council meeting, Richardson argued there should be no allowance for anyone to speak because no one signed up at previous meetings. The law does not mandate speakers sign up to speak.

Ciullo declared speakers would be allowed, per the town’s code of ordinances. Richardson objected, though per state law the board chair has the authority to rule on objections.

Only one person spoke with environmental concerns regarding vegetation and engineers didn’t present for the expansion; council deemed his testimony speculation. 

Council revisited a prior request for revisions to the site plans. During a February meeting, council asked Gandhi to incorporate a more detailed illustration of the project, addressing landscaping, lighting, and facade issues, and enhance the overall readability of the plans.

Frank Murphy, the architect for the project, noted at the meeting updates to the aesthetic and façade of the building, stating that in the new site plans, including colors and materials are more reflective of Oak Island. 

In a previous meeting, the mayor called a “black and white Hotel 6.”

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

Addressing the landscaping and lighting concerns, Murphy showed they added in  bald cypress shade trees and dwarf palmetto shrubs to the street frontage, with no mounted light fixtures on the oceanside of the building. 

“Back lighting facing the ocean during our turtle season, that’s a mortal sin,” council member Bill Craft said. 

Murphy reassured council that the pole and garage lights surrounding the building will use “turtle-friendly” amber lighting. (This ensures hatching turtles follow the moonlight path to the ocean instead of getting turned around by lighting on structures inland.)

The updated site plans revealed details about the height of an elevator tower and the use of the top floor, which council was not previously aware of. 

Gandhi informed council the uppermost floor will serve as a viewing or sunbathing deck for hotel guests. This use requires elevator access that must be mandated to meet specific height requirements. The building is 41 feet but the elevator is listed to go 55 feet.

Council member Terri Cartner questioned how it could be 14 feets higher, since the town’s code of ordinance states 44 feet is the height capacity for commercial buildings in this zone. 

Steve Edwards, Oak Island building director, verified that the elevator height does not break any of the town’s height rules. “The ordinance does allow mechanical apparatuses to exceed the building height,” he said, “there is no cap put on that in the ordinance.”  

An elevator is considered a mechanical apparatus. 

This prompted a condition imposed by council that prohibits the sale of food or beverage on the top deck and states that it cannot be utilized as an event space. 

“I mean, it’s a sundeck that we accidentally discovered tonight. So that’s the purpose right?” Bach asked during the meeting. 

The expansion of the hotel will be built next to its current location at 1425 East Beach Drive.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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