OCEAN CITY — Tougher restrictions on beach smoking and other areas of the resort inched closer to becoming a reality last week when the Mayor and Council approved the ordinance on first reading.
Last Thursday, the City Council unanimously approved on first reading the ordinance that would restrict smoking on the beach to designated, marked smoking areas with proper receptacles for discarding cigarette butts. The designated smoking areas would be located on the beach at each street from the Inlet to the Delaware line with a few exceptions.
The version approved by the council last Thursday included a few tweaks, including the addition of Sunset Park to the list of other public parks already written into the legislation. Also officially added last week at first reading were the covered bus stop shelters throughout the resort. Town officials also lessened the required maximum distance from a designated smoking area from the proposed 20 feet to 15 feet.
The council’s first reading approval last week sets in motion the final implementation phase of what has been a lengthy process. Last April, the Mayor and Council first broached the smoking ban issue and voted 5-2 to restrict smoking on the beach effective May 1, 2015 and directed staff to prepare an implementation plan. As a result, a Smoking Policy Committee, comprised of town staffers and other community representative, was tasked with developing an implementation plan.
The resulting plan presented in January includes a designated smoking area on the beach near each street end from the Inlet to the Delaware line. An outright ban on the Boardwalk is planned with smokers asked to head to the designated sites on the beach to smoke. The ordinance also includes non-nicotine Electronic Smoking Devices (ESDs), which have proliferated recently.
The designated smoking areas will include bright orange receptacles with lids that display the town’s new restricted smoking logo. There will be one receptacle per street located on the beach east of the sea wall in the Boardwalk area and 50 feet north of the street end and east of and 50 feet north of the dune entrances in the area north of the Boardwalk.
The restricted smoking areas will also apply in each of the town’s public parks. Sunset Park along the bay at South Division Street was initially omitted from the original version of the bill, but the council added the park prior to approving it on first reading last Thursday.
“I didn’t think the Inlet lot was included,” said Councilman Wayne Hartman. “I also wonder if Sunset Park should have been included.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the council had the opportunity to amend the proposed ordinance to add or subtract any areas they wanted to.
“Sunset Park wasn’t included, but you can make any changes you want,” said Ayres. “This is only first reading.”
After some discussion, the council approved the ordinance on first reading after adding Sunset Park and the covered bus stops in the resort. The council also voted to reduce the maximum distance while smoking from the designated smoking areas from 20 feet to 15 feet. There was some discussion about adding the Inlet parking lot to the ordinance, but it was omitted on the version approved on first reading.
Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out the maps did not show designated smoking areas at the street ends at 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th Streets. City Manager David Recor said the ordinance could again be amended prior to final approval.
“There are 14 designated smoking areas up to 9th Street,” he said. “There was some question of whether certain areas were eliminated. Also, would you like to push them further east so they are more convenient for beachgoers?”
Dare said the absence of designated smoking areas at those streets appeared to run counter of the intent.
“Our philosophy was to have designated smoking areas at every street end,” he said. “I don’t know why there isn’t one at 3rd Street for example.”
Recor suggested placing designated smoking areas at those streets in question closer to the middle of the beach. Ayres again said the council has the option of amending the ordinance to make adjustments after the new policy is implemented.
“That’s why it’s written as a resolution,” he said. “You can add, subtract or move them at your discretion.”
The receptacles, signage and educational materials associated with implementing the new smoking policy comes with a price tag of around $40,000. The Maryland Cancer Fund has awarded the town a one-time grant of $18,762 for materials, and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has committed the balance of the cost.