Ocean City Today

Officials put off Third Street park plan again

Downtown complex will be included, ranked through strategic planning sessions
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 03, 2017
Courtesy of: Susan Petito

(Aug. 4, 2017) Despite a final appeal to hire an architect to begin drafting plans for the Third Street recreation complex, the Ocean City councilmen who constitute the Recreation and Parks Commission held firm on their decision to bring the matter before the full council.

Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito met with Councilmen John Gehrig and Wayne Hartman on Tuesday to present a rough rendering of the downtown facility. The drawing was not to serve as an official plan, but as a visual aid to show the footprint of various amenities that the commission discussed.

“My goal is not to be too held up on what could be done, because there are many things that could be done,” Petito said. “It’s what was said at the last meeting: we really need to know what our goal is for these parks and what kind of amenities do we have in mind.”

Two renderings showed different options: one where the basketball courts were adjacent to Fourth Street and the other near Second Street. Both options showed an expanded skate park and one tennis court.

Because of the impending construction for the tram facility at Second Street, the city will have to demolish both tennis courts on Third Street. Under an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources Open Space Program, the resort must rebuild one tennis court because state recreation money is involved.

There is no time requirement attached to that stipulation, but Petito said there some other strings are.

“There is a requirement that we send the DNR a letter to provide a commitment that we will replace it,” she said. “There’s one year left that we’re required to have the court, so … if it took us two years to replace it, the new court would have to stay for three years. The disadvantage is not moving the tennis courts within a year or two is that the town could potentially fall out of favor for future DNR funding.”

Petito then asked the commission again to bring an architect on board to help sketch out where the tennis courts would go, considering other possible features.

“From my perspective, I would like the mayor and City Council to give us permission to get started on the design, if not the whole park, then just the side where we want to put the tennis court ... ultimately, you don’t want to haphazardly place a tennis court because you have to build one. If you wanted to move forward in phases, that could also be an option,” she said.

Hartman again opposed drafting a plan, arguing that there were too many moving pieces at play for him to feel comfortable locking the city into a course of action.

One of those pieces include the pickleball courts that will be funded by a DNR grant, as soon as the state’s capital budget passes. In Hartman’s eyes, the pickleball courts could also be moved to the Third Street park, even though the state approved the funding request specifically for Gorman Park on 136th Street.

“With all the moving pieces, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with an architect,” he said. “I think this needs to be brought to the whole council during strategic planning sessions to see where the master parks plan is.”

“The tennis court still needs to be master planned into the park,” Petito responded. “I don’t think you can say ‘the court goes here or there,’ because you don’t have a plan for the park. Because you don’t have a plan for the park, you could be putting the court in a location that, ultimately, may not be the best place when you plan the entire park.”

Hartman said that if the full council ranks the master parks plan as a low priority item, then it could be years before the government takes any planning action or designates any funding. Gehrig agreed with waiting.

“We just need to see what everyone wants,” Gehrig said. “We need to see where council wants to spend money.”

The councilmen agreed the next step would be to see what the uptown community’s thoughts are on the pickleball courts for Gorman Park, which would come out of a meeting at the end of this month.

In the meantime, all master park plan discussions until Strategic Planning sessions in late September, when the council will be asked to rank amenities for the Third Street recreation facility.

Toward the end of the meeting, Petito reiterated her stance that the city would need to spend money to realize fully what could be done for the downtown park — and time is running out.

“We need to spend the money to have a park design that you support so that you can build into this plan and have some sort of timeline,” she said. “You’re strapped by some requirements by accepting grant funding. Even if you’re looking at one block of space, I believe you have to plan that one block of space.”

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