Historic Review: Second Rejection for Hotel Cape Charles

Glass balcony walls at Hotel Cape Charles lend a modern look not in keeping with the Town’s historic character, says the Historic District Review Board.

Cape Charles Wave

November 30, 2012

Cape Charles Historic District Review Board on November 20 rejected for the second time the balcony treatment at the newly renovated Hotel Cape Charles.

The hotel is operating on a temporary occupancy certificate, and the Town will not grant a permanent certificate until the hotel meets the historic standards.

Board chairman Russ Dunton said the Board’s decision is final, and that the developer can either change the balconies to conform to the original approved plan or appeal the Board’s decision to Town Council.  “Town Council is bound by the Historic District Guidelines just as we are,” he added.

Dunton emphasized that the Board did not want to be unreasonable. He also acknowledged that the developer had spent a lot of money on the building, and that many people like its modern look. “But it’s our job to make sure that historic properties in town maintain their character,” he said.

The Board did make some concessions to the building’s modern alterations: They allowed the glass on the third floor in place of a railing, and they accepted the modern light fixtures. They also agreed to overlook the developer’s failure to install decorative wrought iron on the ground floor as originally promised.

But the Board could not accept the glass balconies on the second floor.


The issue was first raised when developer David Gammino attended the Board’s September 18 meeting and apologized for not sticking to the original plan as approved by the Board. At the time, Gammino blamed “a rapidly changing business plan” for not keeping the Town informed about architectural changes. At first, he intended only to do “a light remodel” of the old, defunct hotel. But, “we came to the conclusion that reopening the hotel in its existing configuration would be a disservice to the Town of Cape Charles and limit the hotel’s demographic appeal,” he wrote.

That’s when the budget soared from $500,000 for updates to over $2 million for a major overhaul.

In 2006, when the building was known as Cape Charles Hotel, owner Richard Wagner completed a renovation and received over $2 million historic tax credits. The hotel later went bankrupt and was sold after being stripped of its hardware and fixtures. Gammino bought the building — in complete disrepair — from the bank for $500,000. He did not request any historic tax credits.

The original plans submitted by Gammino, and approved by the Board, called for wrought-iron railings, and that is what the Board wants now.

At the September meeting, Gammino argued that wrought iron would ruin the look of the building as well as add tremendous expense. The glass panels had cost $60,000. “We don’t have the money to make that kind of change. We are $800,000 over budget already,” he said.

Gammino ultimately agreed to have his architect submit a revision, and that’s what the Board reviewed last week. The proposed modification was to add a wooden rail around the perimeter of each section of glass on the second-floor balconies.

That didn’t satisfy the Board. They want both vertical and horizontal railings, to offset the current open aspect of clear glass.

Cape Charles Town Planner Tom Bonadeo suggested that installing half a dozen black aluminum railings like these sold at Lowe’s could solve the problem at Hotel Cape Charles.

Town Planner Tom Bonadeo said that he looked on the Internet and found aluminum railings at Lowe’s for $66 for a six-foot section. Only six sections of railing would be needed, which would be a low-cost fix, he said.

Hotel Cape Charles  has closed for the winter and will reopen in March. Bonadeo said the hope is to get the balcony problem solved before then.


In other business, the Board accepted plans for bathrooms at the southeast corner of Central Park. The restrooms were designed by California architectural firm Green Cottage  to complement the sewer pumping station on the northeast corner of the park.

A $37,000 contract has been approved for Q S Construction to do the work.

The building will feature tube skylights in place of windows. The bathrooms will not be heated and will be closed during the winter.

The Board approved the historic rehabilitation plans submitted for the house at 4 Tazewell Avenue. The plans were previously approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, making the house eligible for tax credits.

Chairman Dutton told the Wave that the Board does not try to second-guess the state DHR, which has very strict standards for historic rehabilitation.



16 Responses to “Historic Review: Second Rejection for Hotel Cape Charles”

  1. Bruce Lindeman on November 30th, 2012 7:03 am

    I do not think it would be prudent to slap “aluminum railings at Lowe’s for $66 for a six-foot section” on to a $2 million renovation of a stunningly remodeled hotel. I agree that the building is not in keeping with the historic “look” of the town. That’d be like getting a bucket of paint and a paintbrush off the shelf at Lowes to repaint a new BMW because your wife doesn’t like the color.

    I agree that the developer should be held accountable. But, the hotel has given Front Street an amazing transformation and received praise from all corners this past summer. Why not grant them an exception and move on to more important business?

    Perhaps the town could get the developer to allow the town to use their meeting space as needed in exchange for the favor or the hotel could be asked to fund some charitable or non-profit work in town (the Youth Garden comes to mind).

  2. David Gay on November 30th, 2012 7:58 am

    I agree with Bruce. If the hotel needs wrought iron railings they should be done right. There is a great guy Sheldon Williams who is a local man who can do a custom job at a fair price. Let’s give a local guy the job! Go Cape Charles!

  3. Marita Patterson on November 30th, 2012 8:07 am

    I also agree with Bruce.

    I am sending an email to the Town Council and asking them to give the Hotel a waiver.

    If you want to take a stand on this issue, email your thoughts to Libby Hume, Town Clerk, and ask her to read them into the minutes at the next town council meeting.

    [email protected]

  4. Bruce Lindeman on November 30th, 2012 10:27 am

    Done, Marita! Thanks for the suggestion :)

  5. Mike Kuzma, Jr on November 30th, 2012 11:05 am

    It is stories like this; the Town Council not being satisfied that an empty building that shed NO TAXES had been restored to its former glory and continually picking at tiny issues, that convinces buyers, developers and investors from considering Cape Charles.
    The cost of compliance is factored into each and every decision, whether conscious or not.
    My family has restored a 1740 farmhouse, 1753 farmhouse and a cottage from 1800.
    The building looks GREAT. Nothing need be done. Frankly, the ‘historic’ nature of the area is diminished by the 1970’s brick building that sits empty, across the street.
    Historically, CC was a bustling economic engine. Legislation, Litigation and Regulation have turned it into the opposite. Do the empty buildings and storefronts along the main business district enhance the historic nature of the area?
    Mr. Gammino’s establishment is capable of drawing visitors to the town, some of whom may buy/invest IF WE LET HIM PROSPER. To have to spend the money on railings when it would be better spent on ADVERTISING his business to increase customers is inimical to the growth of the Town’s economy.

    Government needs to be an active partner, and supporter of Business, not a bar to it.

  6. Dona Danziger on November 30th, 2012 12:33 pm

    I understand that there are strict guidelines that must be followed for Historic building status. Without rules or laws to follow it leads to chaos. The only solution would be to install the wrought iron railings. Getting local bids should be the first step, not the big box stores. Many people are surprised that the box stores are not always the best price nor offer the best selections or quality. I know this first hand and hear it often from my clients when they visit my showroom.
    On another note, I just rec’d a letter today from the law firm representing the GC on the OLD Cape Charles Hotel regarding the General Contractors bankruptcy filing in 2005. My business, Clay Werks, provided and installed all the tile and hardwood in the ballroom . Fortunately I did not get burned the way many other subs and banks did. It appears after all these years there will be a payment soon. Pennies on the dollar.
    I wish the new owners well, they have done a spectacular renovation on a beautiful piece of property. Hotel Cape Charles is a gem!

  7. Mike Kuzma, Jr on November 30th, 2012 1:58 pm

    Dona Danziger, by demanding that Mr. Gammino replace the existing dividers, you put him at risk of NOT having enough operating capital to continue. Would you put the NEXT supplier through what YOU just went thru regarding collection?

    And I disagree with your contention that without ‘strict guidelines’ chaos would ensue. Tacitus told us….”‘The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.”
    We, The United States Of America seemed to have had done pretty well for a loooong time without the overwhelming presence of the State.

    A great day, a better weekend and a Merry Christmas to all!!

  8. Bonnie DeAngelis on November 30th, 2012 3:08 pm

    I love the juxtaposition of the sassy modern edge of the hotel sharing space with it’s historic neighbors. How cool is that? Very!!
    Let’s give them a pass and thank them for an outstanding contribution as well as for their confidence in our future.

  9. Tim Krawczel on December 1st, 2012 9:26 pm

    I support the actions and decision of the Historic District Review Board. From the information provided, the HDRB has applied the lawfully adopted historic district guidelines in a fair and evenhanded way and has patiently, clearly, and competently explained them to the applicant.

    The applicant had a duty to know and abide by the guidelines before construction started. If the applicant wanted to seek a variance to the guidelines, he should have done so before starting construction. The hotel is in a historic district, and the applicant does not have the option of substituting his own style preferences for the adopted guidelines without the requisite approvals.

  10. Judy McKnight on December 2nd, 2012 2:46 pm

    Mr. Gammino behaved very badly by ignoring the town’s decision to strictly enforce its historic / guidelines. However, for the town to mandate the defacing of the beautiful building that currently graces Mason Avenue is a shame. (Aluminum railings from Lowes are not a solution.)

    Perhaps a fine, plus in-kind commitments/contributions to the town from the hotel owner, would be better alternatives. We don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face. Especially since, over one short summer, the newly renovated Cape Charles Hotel seems to have become for many new visitors to it, the face of Cape Charles.

  11. Bruce Lindeman on December 3rd, 2012 7:33 am

    Tim, I agree with you. However, it’s time to look at this holistically and decide how to best proceed for the sake of the town. The Hotel is beautiful! Let’s move on. Slap the developer/owner on the wrist and let’s be done with it. I get rules, historic districts, and the like. But, let’s let common sense prevail here. The Hotel is a HUGE plus for our town. Let’s not punish them further in light of all the good that they’ve brought to the town and local economy this past year.

  12. Mike Kuzma, Jr on December 3rd, 2012 1:56 pm

    Mr. Gammino, I give up. It appears that for the heinous crime of room divider aesthetic transgressions, you will be fined, required to provide in kind contributions and commitments etc. — and just pursued and pursued and pursued.

    Close your doors. Fire all your local staff. Close all distributor accounts. Don’t pay your electric bill, water bill, local taxes and employment taxes. Allow your building to go fallow, and fall into disrepair. Do not have customers who will spend money at local establishments.

    That seems to be EXACTLY what the Town desires.
    Or am I wrong?

  13. David Gammino on December 3rd, 2012 3:20 pm

    As the developer and contractor, I continue to express my apologies and accept responsibility for this situation. As a business owner I am trying to resolve the issue. We are still hoping that we can seek approval of our design through Town Council. Our petition is as follows:

    Thank you

  14. Bruce Lindeman on December 3rd, 2012 7:22 pm

    Done. And I’ve shared this via Facebook. If anyone else supports the Hotel, please do the same!

  15. David Gay on December 3rd, 2012 9:04 pm

    Mike – Sign the petiton. Walk the streets of Cape Charles and get others to sign. Knock on doors. Where is the Town Council on this issue? Once again —-Silence………..

  16. Mike Kuzma, Jr on December 4th, 2012 10:34 am

    Sent to my home account, will sign it later today.

    Mr. Gammino, STOP apologizing! You made a business decision that allowed you to continue operating. I for one THANK YOU for the influx of spent dollars, and subsequent taxes into the area and see no need for you to continue to grovel before the commissars of the apparatchik.

    Were I you, after viewing the empty, dusty, crap cluttered storefronts littering Mason, I’d wonder why the Town is singling ME out for oversight and not the locally born owners of those stores?