Ocean City Today

P&Z OKs update of comp plan

Planning document will go to City Council for final work before it is adoption
By Greg Ellison | Dec 07, 2017

(Dec. 8, 2017) The issue of short-term rentals in single-family residential neighborhoods will not be addressed in the 2017 update of Ocean City’s comprehensive plan, but it apparently will be addressed by the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission.

That was the tenor of the discussion Tuesday, when the commission approved the final revisions to the resort’s master planning document.

Planning Director Bill Neville sought clarification for a number of points in the plan, starting with removing recommendations regarding ongoing conversations about short-term rentals.

“It was appropriate to take the specific information out and just say we want to look at the definition of short-term rentals and have that discussion at a later date,” he said. “By putting a specific idea in the plan, it almost becomes something that … has been fully discussed and endorsed by the commission and it hasn’t.” Commission member Lauren Taylor agreed the topic warranted further examination.

“The rental pattern in the town has changed from a week to shorter stays,” she said. “It’s a whole different paradigm shift.”

After researching how other communities have addressed short-term rentals, Neville said it became evident a one-size-fits-all solution is inappropriate.

“It’s pretty clear that we should come up with our own solution that works for Ocean City because what Montgomery County is doing right now doesn’t necessarily apply directly to what Ocean City’s all about,” he said.

In other aspects of the plan, Neville felt it vital to include a traffic exhibit to reflect the State Highway Administration’s work to eventually realign the Route 50 bridge.

“It’s partly about where the new bridge is going, but I think it’s important to show what the impact will be on the downtown street system and what properties might be affected,” he said.

Taylor questioned the inclusion of a proposal to extend year-round the hours bicycles are permitted on the Boardwalk’s north end.

“I don’t remember us discussing that and I’m opposed to having that in the plan as something were recommending the city do,” she said. “You can’t really herd them to one end and tell them they have to stop at this street.”

Neville, who agreed to remove the reference, noted this was a new suggestion, which is part of a larger discussion surrounding bike safety issues.

“We’ve had other places where we’ve recommended that a bicycle master plan be developed and perhaps that’s the time to work on a specific recommendation,” he said.

Commission member Joe Wilson, while acknowledging traversing downtown by bicycle can be challenging, concurred the issue should be addressed in another venue.

“I do think that the bikes need to be looked at in some way, shape or form [but] I don’t know if the comprehensive plan is the avenue,” he said.

The reaction was mixed when Neville suggested inserting a reference for two projects the mayor and city council have proposed funding over the next decade as part of its capital improvement program.

“One of the items for discussion was the mid-town fire station that would replace Fire Station #3 … and we’ve also talked more in length about the life saving museum as a project [for] expansion,” he said.

Although on board with potentially expanding the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, Taylor took exception to the fire station project.

“I don’t remember us ever saying we recommend building a new fire station at 65th Street,” she said. “It’s listed here as a capital improvement that the city is proposing, but I don’t remember this board endorsing it, and I don’t endorse it.”

Neville said the mention could be omitted since the comprehensive plan already includes cross-references connecting it to the capital improvement plan.

“We don’t necessarily have to duplicate what the CIP says,” he said.

In response to questions from city officials regarding the precise length of Ocean City, Neville said the previously accepted 10-mile distance proved inaccurate.

“I’ve measured one last time and it is approximately 8.6 miles,” he said. “We rounded that up to 9 [miles] and I’ve made the corrections.”

Commission member Joel Brous wondered if the town’s solid waste recycling program could be highlighted in the comprehensive plan.

Ocean City contracts with Covanta recovery to ship trash to its Energy Resource Recovery Center in Fairfax, Virginia for incineration to create electricity.

“Most of my friends, and I think a lot of tourists, don’t get that,” Brous said. “They think that Ocean City just doesn’t care.”

Taylor agreed the program provides a new approach to handling municipal waste.

“In New Jersey, there are piles of recycled things that nobody wants and burning them to provide energy and saving burning more fossil fuels is definitely more conservation oriented,” she said.

Neville said he could include a link to the public works department website which includes a solid waster recycling information sheet.

The commission voted 4-0 to approve the final revision to the comprehensive plan update, with members Palmer Gillis, Peck Miller and Christopher Shanahan not in attendance.

Looking ahead, Neville said he would prepare a summary packet for the mayor and City Council to revisit the topic during its next work session on Dec. 12 at 1 p.m.

“They have 90 days from the time that you send this forward to take action [to] either approve, deny or send it back for revision,” he said. “If they want to move forward and adopt it they are required to have their own public hearing.”

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