Ocean City Today
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Council seeks solutions for loitering

By Greg Ellison | May 17, 2018
Source: File Photo

(May 18, 2018) Hoping to curtail loitering by a contingent of homeless people who regularly congregate on the Boardwalk by the Caroline Street bathrooms, the City Council on Tuesday approved spending more than $17,000 to reconfigure the area and will investigate long-term legal solutions.

City Engineer Terry McGean said the topic was discussed during the Police Commission’s Monday meeting because of concerns about foul language, aggressive pan handling and harassment by a group dubbed the “Caroline Street Gang.”

McGean said based on advice from Interim State’s Attorney Bill McDermott, it became evident a big picture solution would be required.

“It became clear it takes more than an engineering solution,” he said.

In addition to eliminating concrete benches outside the Caroline Street comfort station, closing off the beach front stage area, and increasing perimeter lighting, McGean said McDermott took matters a step further and proposed an ordinance to prohibit sleeping on the Boardwalk.

McDermott told the Police Commission that while Ocean City bans sleeping in vehicles, it has no prohibition against sleeping on municipal property.

“It would need to apply to all city property, [like] bus stops, benches and parks,” McGean said. “The acting state’s attorney … thought it would be an appropriate ordinance to pass.”

Based on a request from adjacent business owners, the council also approved removing four benches at the head of Caroline Street, which contain dedication plaques and will be relocated.

“It may open up the area for street performers, but both businesses felt strongly they wanted them removed,” he said.

McGean said concrete benches outside the bathroom, would be redesigned with river rock embedded in concrete, with the remaining benches having mid-arm rests installed to prohibit sleeping.

“The [concrete] benches become more of an architectural feature,” he said.

The upgrades would include locking gates and temporary barricades on the beach side stage area.

“It would be clear the stage is off limits,” he said.

To increase illumination, McGean said exterior lighting outside the comfort station would be bumped up from 1,800 to 4,600 lumens.

“It’s more than twice the brightness we have under there now,” he said. “We would also add lighting on the east side to avoid those dark hidden spaces.”

McGean said the Police Commission discussion also broached the possibility of leasing small concrete areas located on the western edges of the Boardwalk, which host picnic tables during the summer.

“That did not receive unanimous support,” he said.

Councilman Wayne Hartman noted the city currently leases the areas to adjacent businesses, whose interest in privatizing the sections should be gauged.

Council President Lloyd Martin said City Manager Doug Miller would first need to determine the legality of such an arrangement.

Mayor Rick Meehan said there are problems related to public access and policing challenges that would need to be addressed in greater detail prior to establishing leasing agreements.

“I’m always open to all discussions, but I think it is much more difficult than a decision that would be made here today,” he said.

The council voted unanimously for Miller to consult with City Solicitor Guy Ayres to examine ordinance changes regarding sleeping prohibitions and provide a legal opinion on leasing street ends to private parties.

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