Comp. plan update ready to viewFull revision expected in 2022, but five year guide needed to gauge priorities
(March 31, 2017) The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission has been revising an update of the resort’s comprehensive plan over the past year, and now it’s time for the City Council to weigh in on the commission’s efforts.
Members of the City Council received a copy of the draft comprehensive plan last weekend. Like the plan that preceded it, this version is a blueprint for how and where the community might grow.
Planning and Zoning Director Bill Neville told the mayor and council Tuesday that they would have time to study the proposed update, which is required every 10 years under the Maryland Land Use Article.
“Our [review] is supposed to occur in 2022, but we’re required to file a five-year report with the Maryland Department of Planning to let them know what goals we accomplished and how we will get to the other goals,” he said.
The 10-year review cycle is to correspond with new census information and how it affects municipalities. According to the staff report, the 2010 census information showed that residential population of seniors (ages 55 and older) had increased by 8.6 percent and residential family population had declined by 2.5 percent. Based on county and state average rates, population in Ocean City is expected to grow at marginally over the coming years.
The plan has 11 chapters and incorporates projects outlined in the strategic plan, such as new hotels, relocating the downtown tram facility and the expansion of Route 90 into a dual highway.
“What the comprehensive plan is does is that it acts like a journal and an agenda,” Neville said. “It documents changes in the community and it’s a tool to set priorities on how the community would like to grow. It looks out 20 years.”
The comprehensive plan is also expected to include measures to protect single-family residential (R-1) neighborhoods from short-term rental operations like Airbnb. Councilman John Gehrig had concerns about the brief mention of short-term rental regulations in the draft, and pushed for further discussion.
“I really believe it needs to be discussed on its own, not tied to this big package, since it may involve serious property rights,” Gehrig said. “There are already ordinances on the books to regulate this. If [short-term rentals] are a perceived problem, I don’t want this skating through.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed, but pointed out the comprehensive plan serves as a document that guides the policy implementation.
“This is the path we’re going to follow, but it’s up to us to enact any ordinance that would be any part of this plan,” he said.
Meehan added that when the council had time to review the draft, it should meet to discuss its contents before a public hearing is set.
“We could come up with topic sheets, so that staff could reference it easily when that item comes up for public review,” he said. “It’ll help the commission and the council understand what we’re saying in the plan without reading 300 pages of code.”
The council unanimously voted to forward the draft comprehensive plan to Maryland agencies for a 60-day review period. In that time, residents can access the draft through the Planning and Zoning website on oceancitymd.gov.
“Hopefully, we can schedule a public hearing in June to start the process and get ready for a recommendation out of the Planning Commission,” Neville said.