OCEAN CITY – The issue of outdoor displays of merchandise was revisited this week with the Planning and Zoning Commission making the unanimous decision to table the issue once again until after an upcoming meeting with the Mayor and City Council.
A public hearing was held last month to garner thoughts and opinions on outdoor displays of merchandise from both business owners and town officials. The result was numerous business owners protesting against prohibition of outdoor displays and instead requesting enforcement and uniformity.
Outdoor displays of merchandise are not a rarity in Ocean City, particularly not along the Boardwalk, where merchandise and signs are displayed, sometimes in excess, in an attempt to draw in customers. Although the displays are considered harmless advertising, regulation has become increasingly difficult for the town.
Discussion over a solution to the increasing problem began this week with Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith presenting the Planning and Zoning Commission with several suggestions and options.
“The first thing is whether you want to consider prohibition at all,” Smith said.
Smith explained that the commission must first decide whether it wishes to completely prohibit outdoor displays or rather work with the local businesses to create better criteria and guidelines. The commission agreed that prohibition was not a route that it wanted to take.
At the public hearing held last month, it was decided that a committee needed to be established to help with enforcement and guidelines. Smith explained this week that a design committee will be set up by the Mayor and Council.
“I really think everything about this is consistency and enforcement,” Smith said. “If we had enforcement a year ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight.”
Smith presented the Planning and Zoning Commission with a variety of options and numbers outlining the amount of space that could be allowed for displays and signage. The commission went back and forth over what is considered too much or too restrictive.
Commission member Peck Miller questioned what impact restrictions would have on businesses, such as Malibu’s Surf Shop or The Kite Loft, which are both located on the Boardwalk and have been for years.
“That’s the last thing we want to do is discourage things like that,” Miller said, pointing out that the quality of display outside both businesses is what they want along the Boardwalk and that restricting it would be a taking a step back.
Commission Chairperson Pamela Buckley suggested the city get the design committee in place and work on enforcing the current restrictions with a few additions for one more year rather than completely changing the code.
“I don’t want to go out here and just put numbers on things,” Buckley said, noting that more research should be done before drastic changes are made.
Commission member Lauren Taylor pointed out that some standards, such as poor signage must be addressed before next summer.
Buckley suggested that the properties along the Boardwalk be delineated so that a clear line is indicated how far out displays could be placed. She also agreed that signage, such as hand written signs, should be addressed.
The commission agreed that any major changes to the code would be futile without effective enforcement.
“If we can beef up the enforcement, we can at least clean-up some stuff and see what’s working and not working,” Buckley said.
Taylor agreed, saying significant cleanup was needed on the Boardwalk. Taylor referred to display items such as shoddy signs made out of non-permanent materials, rusty racks filled with faded T-shirts and storefronts cluttered with displays
“The Boardwalk always used to be very neat, ordered and clean,” Taylor said.
A motion was made to table the discussion until after the meeting with the Mayor and Council next month. The commission unanimously agreed, with Joel Brous absent and Chris Shanahan abstaining, to table the discussion and revisit it after the meeting with the Mayor and Council.
Shanahan will be abstaining from all discussion over the issue due to his comments during the public hearing as a citizen and business owner. The public hearing was prior to his selection as a commission member.