OCEAN CITY – Five percent may not seem like much, but for some Boardwalk merchants, it was enough to make them feel like the town was not trying to restrict the way they do business.
The City Council unanimously moved the new outdoor display guidelines through the first reading on Monday, but increased the amount of outdoor space that the merchants could display their products from 15-20 percent, and for at least the moment, stopped the public outcries from merchants who have been calling the ordinance “way too restrictive.”
During Monday’s first reading of the new outdoor display guidelines, Councilman Doug Cymek motioned to increase the percentage of allowable display space outside Boardwalk stores to 20 percent.
“After talking to the merchants, and meeting with (Zoning Administrator) Blaine Smith, on a 20-foot setback with a store that is 16 feet wide, they would get 48 square feet of display at the current 15 percent”, said Cymek, “but, under my proposal at 20 percent, they would get 64 square feet of display, which is essentially one more rack.”
Lew Bush, a Boardwalk business owner since 1966, said that he was pleased with the increase, but doesn’t see this as the final solution.
“This has been a reoccurring fight for years,” said Bush, “and I really think that it’s going to come down to how well they enforce it, and if they allow the merchants to self-police the area, but I hope this works, because I don’t have the time to keep messing with this every two years.”
Bush did argue, however, the need to reduce the outdoor displays at all, citing a recent trip to City Hall.
“When I asked to see the so-called complaints about the outdoor displays, they looked at me like I was crazy, and told me there were none,” said Bush. “So I guess this is a case where a few rotten apples have spoiled the barrel for everyone else.”
Despite Bush’s claims about a lack of concrete complaints, the merchants have long argued certain storeowners were breaking the rules and moving their outdoor displays over their property lines and onto the Boardwalk.
The town, with the help of the Boardwalk Development Association (BDA), has been working on these guidelines for the better part of two years, and BDA President Vicki Barrett thinks that these will actually enable businesses to operate in a more efficient manner.
“This in no way was supposed to be prohibitive,” said Barrett. “We think that it will create the level playing field that everyone has been asking for.”
In addition, products containing foul or sexually explicit content, and any items advocating the usage of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and firearms will be prohibited from the outdoor displays and store frontage areas according to the new guidelines.
Bush hopes the way the town chooses to enforce the new rules will be more efficient than years past.
“Everyone knows that the officer doesn’t work on weekends, and he’s done at five o’clock,” said Bush. “I don’t think they need anyone to patrol the Boardwalk full-time, I just think they need to do it at random times to keep everyone honest.”
Under Cymek’s amendment to the proposed ordinance, storeowners will also have to post a layout design of their outdoor displays in their stores in order to make it easier for the enforcement officer to decide who is adhering to the rules.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas argued merchants should be allowed to change which products are displayed, such as sunglasses during the day, in order to cater to the shoppers at different times of day.
“As long as they display the products in the approved areas it’s fine, said Smith. “The product itself is not the issue, it’s the location and the amount, the height, size and the supervision of it.”