OCEAN CITY – A debate over the intention of a successful petition effort last year opposing additional areas of paid parking continued this week, as the Mayor and City Council moved ahead with installing meters in city-owned lots and not on street parking.
At the budget meeting on April 10, the council voted to establish paid parking at the Public Safety Building and City Hall lot locations that is estimated to produce at least $22,500 in new revenue for the city.
The ordinance states parking will be established on the southern half of the east side of the driveway between 65th and 66th streets on the Public Safety Building Parking Lot, from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays, except for holidays, and all day Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Paid parking will be restored to the City Hall parking lot, from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays, except for holidays, and all day Saturday, Sunday and holidays. On dates of public hearings, pay for parking will not be enforced during the time period commencing one hour before through one hour after the public hearing, the ordinance maintains.
At the conclusion of last year’s budget sessions, the Mayor and City Council voted to approve Ordinance 2013-10 that enacted new areas of paid parking to bring in additional revenue and help close a budget gap.
After several studies, the selected locations included a portion of the Public Safety Building Parking Lot, the City Hall Parking Lot, on the west side of Philadelphia Ave. between North Division St. and South First St., 49th Street ocean block, 131st Street from Coastal Hwy. to Sinepuxent Ave., and 146th Street ocean block.
For months, the ordinance met opposition from Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street as well as from Nolen Graves, the owner of the Crab Bag on 131st Street. Those in opposition came together and organized a group called Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ). The group, along with former Councilman Vince Gisriel, began petition efforts to place a referendum on the ballet on the new areas of paid parking.
Last August, petition efforts were announced as successful with 1,648 valid signatures, and the council voted to repeal the ordinance instead of placing it as a referendum question on this November’s election ballot.
The charter of the Town of Ocean City requires a petition acquire 40 percent, or 1,226 signatures, of the number of voters in the most recent general election for the petition to be valid.
After the petition’s resounding success, Mayor Rick Meehan vowed to oppose the addition of more meters on public streets in the future.
“As long as I am the mayor of Ocean City, I am going to object to any more parking meters on city streets … unless there is six votes to override a mayoral veto, I don’t think you are going to see parking meters on the streets,” Meehan said at that time. “I hope we continue to look at our city lots, and other ways, not just parking meters to reduce costs and to increase revenues where they are palatable and where they are necessary.”
This week Tony Christ, spokesperson for OCTSJ, approached the council in opposition to the new ordinance establishing paid parking only in city-owned lots.
“I want to continue an ongoing objection,” Christ said. “The meters were removed by 1,600 people’s votes a few months ago. I guess you are all betting they have lost their memories on it. Good luck.”
Resident Ellie Diegelmann stated a fiscal impact of $22,500 is peanuts compared to the long-term effect on tourism when Ocean City visitors are “being nickel and dimed to death.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres clarified the council voted to repeal Ordinance 2013-10 that included both city-owned lots and street parking.
“But the gist of the petitioners was just the streets in the north end of town,” Ayres said.
Meehan agreed with Ayres that petition signatures were aimed toward opposition of street parking only.
“There are a lot of people that don’t park at City Hall because they’re not supposed to. This actually opens parking areas … that before people didn’t recognize as areas where they can park. It helps provide additional parking,” the mayor added. “The most important thing to our visitors is time, and this will help them from having to drive around looking for a place to park. I think that helps our visitor, so I don’t see it as a negative.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas chose to abstain from voting for the ordinance on the table.
“I have to apologize to the public because I thought that [city-owned lots] was legally removed from that petition, and I have to agree with Mr. Christ, if people signed that petition and that was on that petition … I want to make sure I do the ethical and right thing here,” Pillas said.
Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out the entirety of Ordinance 2013-10 listed in the petition was rescinded and the ordinance on the table that evening established paid parking in city-owned lots only.
The council voted 6-0 to approve the ordinance to install paid parking in the City Hall and Public Safety Building lots with Pillas abstaining.
“It is about $22,500 and that is a conservative estimate on revenue but that it is still $22,500,” Meehan said. “You can’t have it both ways. One minute we aren’t saving enough but we see a way we can address $22,500, and then it is stated that it is meaningless. It all adds up.”