The locked gates to the development formerly known as The Villages of Ocean Shores were taken down last week and the public was invited inside to look at dramatic new plans to create a resort community with concepts rooted in Seabrook’s success along with several significant differences and changes to the old project.
The development team, led by primary owner Stavros Anastasiou, answered questions and made its first formal presentation to about 70 people packed into the maintenance building on the Marine View Drive site on July 10. They will again appear before the Ocean Shores Planning Commission on July 23. The revised plans cover 47 acres from the Oyhut Wildlife Refuge to the Tonquin Bridge, and include a request for a zoning change to B1, partly to allow for overnight rentals in a cottage-style vacation home concept. The project would create a main entry way off Marine View Drive, with retail closer to the entrance, and it would inlcude some of the property across the street. Anastasiou told the crowd they had purchased the property on the other side of Marine View Drive, hoping to provide access to the canals and inland waterways as part of the new plans.
The current idea is to change the name of the project to Wildrose Bay, something the new owners have been considering since purchasing the property at the end of 2012. Anastasiou told the audience the name is still under consideration and he’s open to suggestions from the public.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property, with the exception of the big monolithic building and the sea of asphalt,” Anastasiou said of the existing condo building that remains unsold from original development. The old Villages plan was to be a gated, private, 55-and-over community with identical condo buildings that still are shown on laid-out plots and asphalt parking lots. All of that will be fixed, Anastasiou vowed.
“We have a great vision, and from this great vision we need your support,” he told the group that included citizens, civic leaders, business owners, real estate agents and City Council candidates. “We need your cooperation, we need your help.”
Anastasiou said he wanted to create a project the community would be “very proud of and your kids will be talking about.”
He introduced two key members of his development team: Michael Mehaffy and Laurence Qamar, the town planner for Seabrook.
“We want to talk about how this is not Seabrook, it’s going to be its own place,” Mehaffy said.
“But it has a lot of the same principles of Seabrook, in terms of being a town or a neighborhood or a village,” Qamar added.
Mehaffy gave an overview of “the bedraggled history” of the former failed project where 15 condo buildings were planned. He called it a “train-wreck plan.”
“It was the same building that was going to be repeated 15 times, basically,” he said. “The massive area of pavement is something we are going to radically change.”
One of the ideas is to open up the natural areas, even creating a lane that traces the edge of the wildlife refuge to the south of the property.
There will be cottages built in one-story and two-story “home clusters” similar to Seabrook, with parking in alleyways and small garages behind the units. The number of residences in the development will be cut by more than half, Mehaffy said, to a total of 253.
Some of the asphalt already laid will be removed and paths will be created with permeable paving, like the oyster shells used in Seabrook, and landscaped areas, the planner said.
“It’s an open community, not gated, and the retail will really be orientated to the neighborhood … aimed to be an amenity for the whole south end of Ocean Shores,” Mehaffy added.
He noted there is a “world-class bird watching and birding” area bordering the site, “that the previous plan really didn’t pay any attention to.”
B1 zoning is a “flexible, general code that allows us to do these kind of flexible things, with the cottages and the retail and the mixed use,” he said in regard to the major code change being requested. Mehaffy also vowed the zoning change would not lead to bigger commercial development, “and we would be happy to be restricted from doing that in our application.”
The development will include 30,000 square feet of retail space, which will be situated near the entrance to Marine View Drive.
Qamar described town and neighborhood principles of design intended to create something “that ages with grace — places you live, you work, you shop.” He noted that over its short period of time as a development, Seabrook was largely a vacation residential property investment at first and has now started to experience more full-time residents moving in.
“It’s less about making towns, but making neighborhoods within a city,” he said.
The new design will allow for public access to the wetlands and wildlife refuge rather than hiding it behind the gates of the old Villages concept, Qamar explained. There were be sidewalks “on every single street” with planting strips between the walkways and streets. The idea also is to create gathering places within the project as walking destinations.
“We’re about opening this up, putting a lane along the edge Oyhut Wildlife Refuge so you can live way back outside of this neighborhood, come on in and bike along that lane. Having access to nature. This is the way we have done it at Seabrook,” he said.
Questions ranged from the type of retail envisioned to the timeline for construction. Others were interested in how the property on the canal would be used or where parking for guests would go. Some wanted to know about possible tsunami evacuation towers or centers (the existing building could serve as one).
Qamar said the intent is to phase-in construction like Seabrook. “We start with one phase and then we build that out 95 percent before moving on to anything new,” he said.
The first phases will be to build from Marine View Drive toward the existing building, which the group will soon begin to refurbish before again marketing the units.
Anastasiou would like if at all possible to begin work before the end of the summer and “deliver” some of the new units by the spring of 2014. He also promised to use local labor and materials if at all possible, even though he and the building partner are from the Seattle area.
“Everybody else is going to be from here: the project manager, the superintendent and all the workforce,” he said.
Responding to a question from Lillian Broadbent about why a B1 zoning change was needed, Mehaffy said it was the only code that allowed for flexibility in how the project unfolds.
“We want this project to be very carefully, methodically done, responding to the market, responding to the changing conditions,” he said of why the group decided against its first request to be considered as a Planned Unit Development. A B3 zone, which is tourist/commercial, also didn’t seem to work, he said. “It has some restrictions that would frankly make it illegal to do what we are trying to do here in terms of the configuration of the buildings,” Mehaffy said.
“With the existing code, the B1 is the best suited in our opinion to be able to do this kind of development,” he added. After a public hearing before the Planning Commission the request for approval of the new plans ultimately goes to the City Council.
“This project has suffered for so long,” Anastasiou said. “What we would like to do is come out and make a little bit of noise. Come out and do 10 or 15 cottages from day one, so it puts the project on the map.”