OCEAN CITY – Disgruntled property owners that will be impacted by the addition of paid parking on 146th Street continued at this week’s meeting to try and convince Ocean City’s elected officials it was the wrong move.
For the past few weeks, Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street have gone to great lengths to persuade the Mayor and City Council to reverse their decision in installing paid parking on the street with no such luck yet.
During a budget wrap-up session on April 19, the Mayor and City Council voted to install paid parking on 146th Street from Coastal Highway to the beach; 49th Street from Coastal Highway to the beach; 131st Street from Coastal Highway to Sinepuxent Ave.; and on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue from South 1st to North Division streets. The council made the moves to bring in alternative revenues to help close a budget gap and lower the proposed property tax rate.
Installing paid parking on 146th Street was approved because the street abuts the Maryland-Delaware line where half the street currently has paid parking operated by Fenwick Island and the other side remains free in Ocean City. The town has found Fenwick Island residents and visitors taking advantage of filling the free side of the street first and walking to spend time in Fenwick.
Ocean Place Association Board of Directors President Ron Deacon came before the council to list the association’s grievances. “All 100 owners are opposed to this policy because we would be dramatically affected by this. Since 1983, we have had parking available to us on 146th St. and now all of a sudden we do not,” Deacon said. “I believe you made your decision based on the best information you had available … it is very important that you know though that information given to you was incorrect.”
Deacon stated Ocean Place condo owners believe they are being discriminated against.
“We all pay taxes but we will be paying more, it may not be called a tax but it is a fee, a parking fee,” he said. “If you did this all over Ocean City, everybody would be paying it but you didn’t, you just picked us.”
Ocean Place is allotted one to two parking lot spaces per condo depending on the amount of bedrooms. Owners argue the amount of deeded spaces is not enough when it comes to having visitors. According to Deacon, during the summer months the Ocean Place parking lot is 80 to 90 percent full and pointed out at the rate of $1.50 an hour condo owners and/or their visitors will be paying at least $20 a day to park on the street.
In making the decision to install paid parking on 146th Street, the Mayor and City Council took into consideration observations that most of the license plates on vehicles parked on the street are “day trippers” taking advantage of the free parking in north Ocean City.
“We do not require our owners to be Maryland residents,” Deacon said. “Thus one cannot assume that parked cars are day trippers from out of state. Some are Ocean Place owners or relatives perhaps from another state.”
Deacon concluded Ocean Place does not appreciate the city making such a decision without the condo owners being notified beforehand.
“We could have sat down, not in the few minutes we have in a council meeting, but if we could just sit and talk through this thing I think it would have been a lot better,” he said. “There have been many statements that you don’t want to harm residents of Ocean City, and your paid parking policies is to make revenue not to harm residents … I just wanted you not to forget that we are residents even though we don’t live on the bayside.”
Econo Lodge Oceanblock General Manager Austin Purnell spoke in opposition of paid parking on 146th Street as well as the other streets chosen.
“I feel it is counterintuitive to our tourism industry,” Purnell said. “It is already expensive enough to vacation here in Ocean City.”
Purnell furthered the hotel directs its guests to park on 146th Street when they come to stay with more than one car as their parking lot allows for one space per room.
“I feel you are passing the problem onto the consumer,” he said. “I understand there is a need for additional revenue streams for a certain financial situation but I feel this however is an odd place to look for it.”
Ocean Place condo owner Michael Feen agreed with Deacon’s argument but added there are other ocean side streets that would bring in more revenue for the city versus 146th Street, such as 142nd Street, that has two lanes, an ingress and egress, and 70 spaces compared to 40 spaces on 146th Street.
“That is a 75 percent increase in the number of parking spaces. If the big issue is revenue … then we are missing out on 75 percent here,” Feen said. “If it was done in an open and fair process … and that is the way you came down on it, well then I might not like it but at least I would accept it because it was done openly and fairly.”
Councilman Joe Mitrecic asserted 142nd Street was not chosen as it has residences on both sides of the street as many other ocean side streets do along Ocean City.
“The streets that were picked, 49th Street abuts the Ocean Pines community parking for the beach, 131st Street has businesses on both sides of it, 146th abuts the state line, so really why that was picked … and any other street in town was not picked because they are residential on both sides of the street,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan also took the time to point out all council meetings and agendas are posted and allows for a fair process as there is time made in all meetings for citizen comments.
“Ocean Place takes up the whole block [between 145th and 146th streets] so if you go to 145th Street there are 62 parking spaces on that street that abut the Ocean Place property, so I think that was taken into consideration that there are 62 spaces that are there that wouldn’t be paid parking,” Meehan said.
A voice that has not been heard yet was from Crab Bag owner Nolen Graves, whose restaurant is located on 131st Street that was also chosen to have paid parking installed.
“I was told that this is going to benefit my business by encouraging turnover,” he said. “I don’t want my people to leave my restaurant to encourage turnover. When they are done, then they will leave.”
Graves argued if the town is making decisions to implement new paid parking based on benefiting businesses, officials should look to starting with Ocean City’s own businesses, such as the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
“There is no other city I know of where you get free parking when you go to events,” he said. “I heard you’re afraid that it would hurt the convention center business, but then I’m told that is going to help mine but you don’t want them there because it will hurt yours.”
Graves is worried this year’s expansion is only the beginning of more paid parking being added throughout town.
“Call it what it is. It is a tax. If you call it a tax, it is not going to be popular but once those parking meters get installed, they are never coming out,” he said. “A couple years down the road when the assessments
go the other way things going to turn around again … until then you want the parking meters to make up the short fall … what is sounds like is the decision has been made, these meters are going in whether we like it or not, and we are going to have to get used to it.”
Graves concluded he is concerned about the backlash he will receive when parking for Crab Bag overflows into the residential community of Montego Bay that is only a few footsteps away from the restaurant.
“I just don’t appreciate the way it was handled,” he said.