Ocean City Today

Housing, image can’t be controlled by govt.

Aug 10, 2017



printed 08/11/2017


Government can do only so much, which is why it can’t step in and remedy major commercial and cultural issues that it didn’t cause or create.

Two such matters are being discussed by city officials at the behest of citizens — the employee housing shortage and the desire to burnish Ocean City’s image — but local government’s ability to affect change in either is limited.

It cannot, for instance, control who visits the resort and who doesn’t. It might be able to tweak event calendars and reject some proposals, but it’s not as if it has the authority to bar anyone or force businesses to appeal to a particular clientele.

As for housing, some things could be done, but at a big political price. The mayor and City Council could, for instance, agree to underwrite employee housing projects — and then endure withering taxpayer criticism before waving goodbye after the next election.

Or, they could turn the land use plan upside down and require all large-scale development and redevelopment projects to dedicate a specific percentage of their total square footage to fixed-price employee housing — and the commercial exodus outside the corporate limits would be unstoppable.

They even could offer tax incentives for employee housing projects — see taxpayer ire mentioned above.

Unlike the employee housing dilemma, which government at least has the ability to address through one terrible option or another, it has no real way to bring about much change in the resort’s image (whatever that might be) because it didn’t create it.

Officials can scrutinize the resort’s marketing plan all they want, but it remains that Ocean City’s image is mostly the product of private enterprise. It is the sum of all the resort’s parts — a party town, a family town, a sportsfishing destination, rowdy, quiet, much too expensive and downright affordable. It is whatever businesses can think of and the crowds that they can draw.

As much as people might think they want a paternalistic government that serves as the gatekeeper, solves the public’s problems at no charge, and manages the resort’s economic structure, it isn’t equipped to do those things. Besides, no one would like it if it tried.


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