Final Appeal Tonight on Hotel Cape Charles

Cape Charles Wave

February 21, 2013

The scene: A 1950s movie. Two teenagers in hotrods are playing a deadly game of chicken on a deserted dark highway. As they roar head-on toward one another, one of them has to swerve. If neither gives up, they both die.

Tonight, the Town of Cape Charles and Hotel Cape Charles face off in their own version of “chicken.” Either one party wins and the other loses, or if neither side gives in, they both go down in flames.

The stand-off is over the design of the hotel building — specifically the glass-walled balconies. When hotel owner David Gammino originally submitted his design proposals to the Town’s Historic District Review Board, the balconies were shown in wrought iron, and that’s what the Board approved.

Gammino later changed his mind, but never advised the Board. And although the Town was supposed to monitor the construction, no one noticed that the building didn’t look like the approved design until it was too late.

The hotel received a temporary occupancy permit, allowing it to open last summer. Meanwhile, the Historic Review Board instructed Gammino to go back to the drawing board and come up with balcony walls that looked more “historic.”

Gammino dutifully sent new architectural drawings showing wood surrounds on the glass. But the Review Board rejected the proposal, and turned the case over to Town Council.

And so tonight, six citizens who have never claimed any expertise in historic architectural style will determine whether Hotel Cape Charles is allowed to reopen.


The decision seems sure to be a political one, not an architectural one.

If Town Council denies Gammino’s appeal, under Town rules the $3 million hotel will remain closed, causing untold damage to the Town’s reputation as well as to the local economy.

Given the widespread acclaim the hotel’s design has enjoyed, Town Council would be crucified if it shut down the hotel. Both sides would be the losers.

But if Town Council plays the chicken and gives in, it overrules the Historic District Review Board for doing the job they were appointed to do.


Harbor Access Road: Council is expected to pass an ordinance expressing support for state construction of a connector between Stone Road (SR 184) and the Town Harbor and Bayshore Concrete that would bypass the Town’s business district. Northampton County Board of Supervisors has a similar resolution.

The proposed ordinance urges the Virginia Department of Transportation to abandon plans to upgrade Old Cape Charles Road and instead construct the connector road.

No map accompanies the resolution.

Harbor District Density: As the Wave reported February 7, the Town Planning Commission has asked Town Council to sign off on a new method for calculating density in the Harbor District, and Town Council is expected to do so tonight.

There has been no opportunity for public input on the proposal, either to the Planning Commission or to Town Council.

The plan appears to be first to finalize decisions by the Planning Commission and by Town Council on Harbor density, and then to hold the public hearings required by law.

The complete information packet for tonight’s Town Council meeting may be read here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).



6 Responses to “TOWN COUNCIL:
Final Appeal Tonight on Hotel Cape Charles”

  1. Bruce Wayne Jones on February 21st, 2013 9:13 am

    Looks like the Town council is between a rock and a hard place. Since the project was not monitored well to prevent this until it was ‘too late’ they likely will need to allow the change. However I think Mr. Gammino is a bit arrogant in that he knew the process, and decided to make the change without approval, maybe he knew it would get shot down. This also can open a pandoras box if you will, to other people restoring buildings in the historic district, to find a way around getting something that normally would not pass. I think the Historic district review board needs to cut more teeth, and be much more attentive to what is going on, if you want to have a specific look to the historic district. If they or the town fail to do so, they will place themselves in this position again in the future.

  2. Steve Downs on February 21st, 2013 10:14 am

    It has been suggested to me by a person who has knowledge of this situation that the best thing to do would be to fine Mr. Gammino’s company in the amount of $150 and then move on. The hotel opens and the town has made its point. Sounds reasonable to me. Everybody benefits from the hotel being open in Cape Charles. Nobody does if it doesn’t.

  3. Dan Breeze on February 21st, 2013 10:34 am

    This is going to be tough. When given the temporary occupancy permit was there a condition to change the balconies to receive a permanent certificate? Sounds like there was; Mr. Gammino submitted other designs to conform with the required guidelines so he was aware of the problem.
    However, was any of this put into writting? If it was it is a matter of record.
    During the installation of the balconies, which did not happen over night, didn’t anyone from the historic district notice these glass balconies going up? Come on, it’s Cape Charles, you can’t wave at someone on Mason without your nieghbor knowing about it back on Madison within minutes.
    I think what you have here is someone who changed the plans and, like the rest of us, figured it was better to ask forgiveness than permission, or figured if it was not right someone would say something then.
    OR, we have some person or people who decided that even though the code wasn’t being followed, didn’t want to say something because they didn’t want to get the other person upset. So nothing was said.
    More to truth, having come from Cape Charles, someone saw the changes and, just for giggles and their own pleasure, decided to wait to say something so there would be this whole mess going on. Just to make people miserable. They are probably sitting back chuckling to themselves.
    Best to leave this to the Historic Society, the business owner and Town Council.

  4. Roseann Chin on February 21st, 2013 12:17 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the scaffolding up and it was boarded over. It is my recollection that the front of the hotel was not visible during construction. Maybe just maybe that’s because the owner was trying to hide the changes until the construction was complete.

  5. David Gay on February 21st, 2013 2:06 pm

    Why not issue the occupancy permit and charge a monthly fine until the building meets architectural approval. That way the town council will not lose face but get additional revenue and Mr. Gammino gets to run his hotel but doesn’t get off Scot-free. After all, someone has to pay for those reduced water bills that the other developer (Echelon) got for the Old School. Eventually, he will comply with the architectural committee if he wants to keep more of his revenue.

  6. Katherine Myles on February 21st, 2013 6:41 pm

    I think the Hotel is beautiful and gives the town a much needed face lift. I’m all for historic preservation, but can we just move on?!