OCEAN CITY – The most recent Volkswagen rally that swept through the area has led city and county officials to contemplate further restrictions to prevent unapproved special events.
Ocean City resident David Betten approached the Mayor and City Council on Monday over his concerns with the “Volkswagen and Audi enthusiasts” who have congregated to Ocean City over the past several years and are increasing in number every year.
“This event is becoming an even greater nuisance every year,” he said.
H2O International VW Audi Event was held a few weeks ago, Sept. 24 and 25, the same weekend as the town’s main event, Sunfest. H2O International is not a city sponsored event.
According to the event’s website, Ocean City is listed as its venue as well as Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Berlin.
Betten said the VW and Audi participants’ lack of respect is beginning to discourage people from visiting Ocean City on the same weekend as Sunfest. He said the behavior has gotten so bad that he and his wife have left town to avoid it all together as well as others in the building they live.
Betten’s residence hires a security guard, which is usually on duty until Labor Day but due to H2O International the residents have extended the guard’s duties until after the rally has passed through town.
“This year from what was reported from our security guard and others, it was safety issues from the constant drag racing up and down Coastal Highway, it was a public nuisance with the litter and the vandalism, and it is just not a family friendly environment, which is what I know we want,” he said.
Betten added that he admires the Ocean City Police Department in its response times but even this event has gone beyond its control.
“There were cases over the weekend that our security guard called in and they couldn’t respond because they were just swamped,” he said.
Betten asked the Mayor and City Council to take action by perhaps working with the event’s organizers.
“Whatever we can do to control this event because it is affecting me and my neighbors, but it is also affecting the city and it is going to continue to erode your attendance at Sunfest,” he said.
Councilman Brent Ashley said he has received more complaints about H2O International than ever before. He suggested bringing in additional police enforcement from surrounding jurisdictions like what is done during Delmarva Bike Week.
“I think that is the way to go because I agree that if this continues it is going to ruin Sunfest,” he said. “I hope the council would be agreeable in getting the chief to beef up the enforcement for next year.”
Councilman Joe Hall said the business community has embraced H2O International when it arrives in town, and the event isn’t all bad because participants are spending money in town.
“But it is not worth the disrespect,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said he has spoken with county attorney Sonny Bloxom and a representative from the Maryland State Police (MSP) over the matter.
“This event that took place without us really having any control over…it was an Internet organized event so they just showed up,” the mayor said.
Meehan pointed out that there is a special event application process in which organizers have to go through in order to gain approval from the town to have Ocean City as a venue, and so that the town is aware of the services that needs to be provided.
“This wasn’t the case with this event nor was it the case with the county,” he said.
In Snow Hill, the issue was discussed by the Worcester County Commission on Tuesday.
According to Bloxom, the State Police are looking into developing a permitting process that would ensure events like the Volkswagen rally will not have a negative impact on surrounding roads and communities. The permit process will most likely go through the State Highway Administration.
County Commissioner Judy Boggs said the language for the permits will have to be closely monitored so it won’t become too restrictive.
“We don’t want to prevent churches from having carnivals and bazars,” she said.
Meehan said that he has also met with Convention Center Director Rick Hamilton because rally participants had the building’s parking lot become their “homestead”.
“It wasn’t supported by the town, they just kind of showed up there and took up a portion of that lot,” he said.
In the future, there will be a recommendation brought forward to the council for a policy to control the convention center’s parking lot while there are planned events taking place in the building.
“We are going to be working with the county as well as the MSP [Maryland State Police] but it is a problem and it is something that is going to grow if we don’t do something,” Meehan said.