Council Fine With Broader Commission Oversight

Council Fine With Broader Commission Oversight

Joanne Shriner
Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY – The Planning and Zoning Commission received the Mayor and City Council’s go ahead in tightening up its code by expanding the commission’s site plan review authority.

The Planning and Zoning Department recently initiated amendments to the Planning Commission’s Site Review Authority. The proposed amendments include amending the Planning Commission approval for certain uses, current language of multi-family dwelling units with 10 or more units to the proposal of multi-family dwelling units with three or more units, and to amend the current language of business, commercial or industrial buildings if such buildings contain more than 5,000 square feet of gross floor area to the proposal which includes all business, commercial or industrial buildings.

The commission held a public hearing on March 1 to consider the amendments but there were no public comments.  In reviewing the impact the amendments would have on future applicants, the commission found the fee and time to place an application through the Technical Review process would not be an undue burden on the applicant. Staff review and Planning Commission review will retain the same 18-month expiration unless otherwise extended by the commission.

During the public hearing last month, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the proposal is to expand the scope of plan review that the commission could do. Currently, if an applicant has 10 or less multi-family units, or 5,000 square feet or less of commercial space, Smith would process the permits at staff level.

“It’s an administrative review,” Smith said. “Should the Planning Commission make the recommendation to change the number of reviews that they would do to take on the smaller projects, it’s still an administrative review.”

Smith continued to explain that the review request would come to him first and under the code he would have 30 days to process the application for site plan review for the commission and to all the different regulatory departments of the city.

“We call it TRC, which is Technical Review Committee,” Smith said. “We would get various comments from the different departments on the infrastructure and the design of the project…and then I would bring those comments, with a staff recommendation, to the Planning Commission and thereafter they would render a decision after reviewing the plans and asking questions and reviewing it with the applicant.”

Smith said that once the Planning Commission reviews a project, it has three decisions they can make. The commission can approve it, deny it or approve it with conditions. Normally beyond that point, the applicant can start applying for a building permit once construction documents are completed.

“This would give the Planning Commission more oversight on the smaller scale projects,” Smith said. “As you know, we’re not getting that much … large scale development these days, and much of our development is infill development, so they would review these smaller scale projects for the same purpose as the larger projects, because they do have cumulative effect on various neighborhoods.”

Commission Chairperson Pam Buckley said during Tuesday afternoon’s Mayor and City Council session that as Ocean City has grown the Planning and Zoning Commission has had to make changes.

“We are here just to make a whole package work together,” Buckley said.

Buckley said that for a number of years the commission would approve site plans because they met the zoning code but now that building and renovations are mainly taking place in the small spaces left in town the commission feels it would be easier to have more input for those zones minimizing the risk a project would have on its surrounding areas.

“The small area that Ocean City has makes everything built or renovated that much more of an effect of what’s around it,” Buckley said.

Commission member Peck Miller said that the amendment is an attempt for the commission to become more pro-active.

“We are doing a lot of infill right now and we are affecting neighbors everywhere,” he added.

Smith explained that the financial impact will be a minimum fee of $377 for commercial applications and 35 cents per square foot. For multi- family dwellings, it is $38 per unit, a maximum of $380 for 10 units.

“We looked hard at the costs and what we charge for people to develop in this town,” Buckley said. “We did feel that since there are such few projects and not much land left to develop and anything left to re-develop is certainly going to create more of an effect on surrounding properties. We felt less than $500 was not that arduous.”

Smith said that the code amendment would also impact the amount of time it takes for the department to review a site plan. Commission member Joel Brous said that he would rather see an applicant make one stop to have a site plan reviewed instead of “hopping around” to all the different departments involved.

The council voted unanimously to approve the commission’s recommendation to expand its site review plan authority.

“It’s a little bit more expensive and it’s a little bit more time, but I think you have 10 more eyes looking at something, you have 10 more good ideas,” Council President Jim Hall said.

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