Ocean City Today

Downtown park plan waits until full council weighs in

By Katie Tabeling | Jul 13, 2017

(July 14, 2017) The fate of the Third Street recreation complex will be left undecided for the moment, as the Recreation and Parks Commission this week agreed to push the matter to the City Council’s strategic planning sessions in the fall.

The commission has been discussing a master plan to update the resort’s 16 parks for months, but Councilman Wayne Hartman, the commission’s chairman, decided to put it before the full council when it became clear that the three councilmen who sit on that committee could not agree how to proceed.

“We need the consensus of the council before we spend any more time on this. It needs to be a priority to see where this whole master plan process needs to go,” Hartman said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The Recreation and Parks Commission meeting has a rough idea of what amenities would be included in the Third Street park complex, which is divided into two parcels by St. Louis Avenue. The land facing Philadelphia Avenue has tennis and basketball courts, the playground and the Ocean Bowl Skate Park, while across the street is left as an open field.

Preliminary ideas for the park include moving the playground to the open space, and building a pavilion nearby for private and family events. Walking paths could be paved along the perimeter, with exercise equipment installed. A dog play area could be installed on that land as well.

The location of the tennis courts is an impending issue, as the construction of the tram facility in the area will force it out. Ocean City is required to build one of the two courts, as they were paid for with funds from the Department of Natural Resources Open Space Program.

Parks officials estimate that it would cost somewhere around $100,000 to move the tennis court.

Hartman lobbied to replace the basketball court with the tennis court, as he saw trash and foul language brought on by ball players. But Councilman John Gehrig wanted to flesh out Third Street park plans before making any commitments.

“My problem is that we have to redo the entire thing, but why move it there? Then we’re restricted to a bigger plan, because we arbitrarily put it there. What we’re talking about is doing this without making any decision,” Gehrig said.

“We need to start making decisions,” Hartman argued. “I see this as we’re improving structures and locked into a certain space. We’re here to figure out what we want.”

Gehrig pointed out that the commission has had little luck in forming a solid plan that embraces the larger picture of the Third Street park.

“It’s impossible. We’re talking about a major project and we’ll be here to 3 a.m. talking about it,” he said. “I see this as a blank canvas.”

Council President Lloyd Martin agreed with Gehrig, and said he wanted the tennis courts to be considered not as a separate matter, but as part of the overall park layout.

“That’s the most used property in that area, and I hate to get rid of something well used and keeping people out of trouble,” Martin said. “If you’re going to put it someplace, you’re going to put it where it’ll stay.”

Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito recommended spending what was left in the department’s fund balance to hire an architect to design a concept for the park. That could help city officials visualize all the elements discussed while addressing other concerns.

Hartman disagreed.

“I’m not interested in spending money for a plan,” he said.

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