OCEAN CITY – There were no objections expressed this week during a public hearing to discuss proposed design guidelines for upper Ocean City.
Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston explained that there are design standards in place in downtown Ocean City from the Inlet to 17th Street currently.
“Those are much more specific because they have an architectural style and design that they are trying to encourage and to make sure that the new building complies with that kind of architecture,” Houston said.
From 17th Street north, there are no design guidelines in place when it comes to constructing a new building.
“I thought it would be good to develop some general guidelines, not as specific as downtown, but general guidelines based on general architectural design standards,” Houston said.
The design guidelines, not standards, are proposed to be included in the site plan approval process and will not include any changes to zoning regulations.
A designer or architect will have to come before the Planning and Zoning Commission to present the design of the building and prove the guidelines have been considered. This will not add any more steps to the process since the commission has to approve a site plan anyhow.
The guidelines will assist new development to complement and enhance its existing neighborhood. The proposed ordinance does include that if there is no existing character in the surrounding area the designer has the opportunity to create that.
“We have existing character and the concept is to try to compliment that and not cause great changes,” Houston said.
As a resort, the appearance of the town has a major impact on economic health, according to Houston.
“This is an economic issue as well as a building issue,” Houston said. “We need to be an attractive community in order to keep a healthy tourism economy.”
Design guidelines can also act as an incentive to protect property values, which is one of reasons why the downtown design guidelines exist.
“You know that if the person next you is going to be building something that is acceptable then you know that your property values down the road will be protected by these ordinances,” Houston said.
According to the guidelines, design elements to be observed include neighborhood sensitivity, location of building, building envelope, openings, finishes and materials, roof detail and color.
Additions to buildings will also be considered into the design guidelines and should be designed to not dramatically change appearance and consider scale and mass, placed on side or rear of existing building, windows and materials.
“It’s a compromise sort of a thing, it is not a mandate,” Houston said. “We are not coming in with a hammer. We are trying to work with the designer and have the designer work with the commission.”
There were no public speakers during the public hearing, as well as no opposition from the Planning and Zoning Commission. There was a unanimous vote to move the proposed design guidelines forward to the Mayor and City Council in ordinance form for their consideration.
“We have also found that if it is brought to an applicant’s attention, if it is something that they have never thought about previously, that the majority of them do want to be attractive in their setting,” Commission Chair Pam Buckley said. “Most of them have been appreciative of the ideas that we have given them … none of us are here to do anything other than make Ocean City look better.”
Also, this week the commission reviewed a request to revise parking space dimensions requirements to obtain a better landscaping layout without losing any parking spaces.
According to Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer, it has become apparent that certain development codes and policies have been instituted that compromise the landscape areas on development projects.
The request is to reduce parking spaces from 20 feet to 19 feet, which is still enough space to fit a standard sized vehicle. This would allow landscaping to feature appropriate sized landscaping by adding an additional foot to landscaped areas.
The commission became concerned over the amount of back up space a car would have if a parking space was reduced by a foot. The commission decided to have a little more “homework” conducted before further discussion.
Experiments will be conducted around town to receive a physical overview of how parking lots would be affected by the request.