‘Freedoms Being Stepped On’ Leads To Street Performer Protest; Task Force Member Opposes New Regs

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OCEAN CITY – Street performers have banded together in protest as the town’s newly implemented regulations governing them went into effect.

On Monday morning, performers lined up at City Hall signing up for designated spaces to perform on the Boardwalk Monday, Aug. 3, through Thursday, Aug. 6. However, a group of street performers have become disgruntled over the Town of Ocean City’s newly implemented street performer regulations and later that afternoon gathered in front of City Hall to protest.

The Town of Ocean City has been struggling with the proliferation of street performers on the Boardwalk for several years. A Boardwalk Task Force was created to specifically look into the growing concerns. After two public hearings over the winter, the task force’s recommendations were submitted to the Mayor and City Council and presented in an ordinance form.

“Everything is going smoothly for it being the beginning of a new policy. There are some that are disappointed this is the route it has taken but I tell them the Task Force is going to meet again in the fall and to note their suggestions and concerns. We will take a step back and look at what worked or what didn’t work,” City Clerk Diana Chavis said on Monday afternoon.

As of that time, there were still five designated spaces left for next week.

“They are choosing their own spots, and it seems like everybody is looking for the right size they need at this point. They are concerned about being next to another similar act, but that is coordinated among them. I can’t dictate where they can be,” Chavis said.

In mid-June, the Mayor and City Council passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street.

The ordinance states, “The Town Clerk shall designate spaces on the Boardwalk between and including South 1st Street and 9th Street … will be available on a first-come, first-serve allocation and selection system for two periods of use; the first period shall be Monday through Thursday and the second period shall be Friday through Sunday…the Designated Spaces will be available for selection twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays one week in advance …”

In most cases, there are two designates spaces per street end from the Inlet to 9th Street ranging from 10 feet by 10 feet, five feet by 10 feet and 5 feet by five feet. At all street ends, from the Inlet to 27th Street, there must be a three-foot clear area around each fire hydrant as well as a safe separation from the Boardwalk tram lane.

Other regulations governing the entire Boardwalk include no performer or vendor can place or allow any item exceeding five feet above ground, or affix props or equipment to the Boardwalk; leave items unattended for a period of 15 consecutive minutes; occupy more than one designated space at any given time or solicit persons to obtain or occupy an additional space on his or her behalf; purchase, sell, barter or exchange any designated space; attempt to reserve a designated space in any fashion other than the selection system; fuel or refuel generators on the Boardwalk or possess fuel on the Boardwalk not contained in the generator; advertise, or employ an individual to advertise, his or her performance or vending outside of the occupied designated space or street end area; connect to any municipal electric outlet for use in any display or performance; use nudity, pornographic materials, or obscenity in any display or performance; use animals except for legitimate purposes pursuant to ADA; use fire or similarly hazardous materials, including, but not limited to, knives, swords or other sharply bladed instruments; or touch other persons as in hair-braiding, nail painting or apply substances to other persons, including, but not limited to, paints, dyes and inks.

On Monday, the first day the ordinance went into effect, performers gathered outside City Hall wearing T-shirts reading “Free Speech Prisoner” and holding up signs stating “Expression not Suppression.”

Performer George Gilbert, who puts on comedy magic shows across the country, voiced his concern over the limitation in space.

“There are two, 10-foot by 10-foot square spaces on each street end, and if you get a crowd right next to another performer … it is like we are in a cage,” Gilbert said. “The squares are right at the edge of the Boardwalk but they tell you, you can’t block the Boardwalk with a crowd, so basically they don’t want actual shows, actual entertainment. We can’t work that way, and I believe they are making these regulations so it will encourage us to leave.”

Gilbert recognized his act could be taken above 9th Street but his crowds still have to be out of the way of the tram lane.

“The tram runs down the middle of the Boardwalk and when you’re putting on a show you don’t want to put people in the way of the tram. It will come back to me if somebody gets hit by a tram,” he said.

The sign-up process is not working for performers who do not live in Ocean City, Gilbert stated.

“Now they are making us register every Monday and Friday morning but that is impossible for me because I don’t even live here. I live in Tampa, Fla. What about all the traveling performers? They are taking away the spontaneity of street performing,” he said.

When asked if he was aware of the process throughout the past year in working with the performers to come up with the regulations, Gilbert reiterated most of the performers do no live in Ocean City during the off-season to provide input.

“There is nobody here and no way to make a living, and again they know that and are being strategic in making performers leave,” he said.

Young singer Connor McAllister’s father, Doug McAllister, who served in the U.S. Army and is a retired police officer, agreed with Gilbert in the sign-up process being inconvenient for those who live out of state.

“I fought for freedom. I have done everything I could for freedom of expression,” he said. “We came all the way from Gettysburg to find out that everything has changed since last year. We weren’t aware of anything going on. We thought we could come back and set up on the Boardwalk. As long as you’re not bothering anybody you should be able to perform.”

Spray paint artist Mark Chase, who served on the Boardwalk Task Force, participated in the protest.

“I was against most of it [regulations],” Chase said, as he pointed out he was the only performer who served on the Task Force. “The system they implemented is not working whatsoever … It has segregated us to the point of first-come, first-serve. People are showing up at midnight and sleeping in front of City Hall just to be allowed to express themselves. That is excessive and over burdensome. It describes everything that free speech is not.”

Chase also pointed out that most Boardwalk performers protesting live in other areas of the country and could not participate in the public hearings.

“Even though we reached out, a lot of performers don’t have the funding to come here for one day and leave, especially when they know the council is going to ignore him,” he said. “If you look at the council videos of these guys [performers] talking to them, the council has pretty much fallen asleep, ignored them and retaliated sarcastically. You can see how they view us, and how they treat us.”

In 2011, Chase sued the Town of Ocean City over violating street performer’s first amendment rights by restricting them from selling their wares on the Boardwalk, and the federal court ruled street performers and artists are allowed to sell or collect money for certain expressive materials.

When The Dispatch asked if Chase was considering a subsequent law suit over the newly implemented regulations, Chase responded he has not made a decision at this time.

“There has been talk of it off and on but we are hoping it will be resolved first,” Chase said. “We want the city to notice we are a decent group. We are Americans and when we see our freedoms being stepped on we band together. That is what America is all about.”

Ocean City, Recor Come To ‘Mutual Decision’ To Part Ways; Mayor Appointed To Interim Position While Nationwide Search Takes Place

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OCEAN CITY – City Manager David Recor’s accident in a city vehicle this month may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as it was announced on Monday the Mayor and City Council accepted Recor’s resignation.

“Prior to this open session, the Mayor and City Council had a closed session to discuss personnel matters. Actions taken were the Mayor and City Council mutually agreed and accepted City Manager David Recor’s resignation,” Council President Lloyd Martin said.

On July 10, Recor, 48, was driving west on Route 50 in his city vehicle — a 2014 Chevy Tahoe — when he struck a road sign pole near Golf Course Road around 7:30 a.m. Recor, who said he was on his way to Wawa for his morning coffee, did not immediately stop at the scene of the collision and instead turned around at the intersection of Routes 50 and 611 before returning to remove the downed sign from the highway. He dismissed eyewitness accounts that he fled the scene, but admitted he did not stop initially at the site of the collision.

The accident was witnessed by an off-duty Ocean City police officer. Significant damage to the front of the vehicle, including a broken headlight and a cracked windshield, occurred.

In an email last week, Recor took exception to what was reported by The Dispatch online about the incident on Wednesday, July 15.

“Contrary to what has been ‘reported’ and now published, I did not flee the scene. After hitting the road sign, in order to return to the location safely, I made a U-turn at the very next intersection at Route 50 and Route 611. I immediately returned directly to the location and removed the broken sign from the roadway. I received a phone call from the Town’s Communications Center asking if my vehicle had been involved in an accident. I responded that I had inadvertently hit a road sign.  Communications then indicated that a Maryland State Trooper was in route to the location and I subsequently met with Maryland State Trooper Dick to explain what had occurred,” Recor wrote.

The State of Maryland Motor Vehicle Crash Report, obtained for a fee from the Maryland State Police Berlin Barracks today, concludes Recor did in fact return to the scene to pick up the sign but then left the scene and only returned after being called by Ocean City Communications. The report indicates the trooper was talking with a witness — an off-duty Ocean City Police officer — at the scene when Recor returned.

“Upon arrival at the scene, the suspect vehicle was not on location. While talking with the witness, I observed the suspect vehicle return to the scene, remove the sign from the roadway and then leave. … I then contacted Ocean City Communications who was able to make contact with Recor and advised him to come back to the scene … 19 minutes after being dispatched I made contact with Recor at the Wine Rack adjacent to the collision scene,” the report’s narrative read.

At City Hall, City Risk Manager Eric Lagstrom told Recor he would have to take a drug and alcohol test as is consistent with city policy in these situations when city-owned property is involved. Recor did not immediately comply, according to sources and went about his daily business. Martin and Police Commission Chairman Councilman Doug Cymek were immediately informed of the situation.

Recor said he followed city protocol and earlier reports that he refused to take the test when requested. It’s typical city policy for employees to take the test when initially asked to ensure an accurate reading.

Recor explained he waited until the end of business to take the alcohol and drug test because he was busy interviewing candidates for the vacant Planning and Zoning Department director post on Friday. Last Wednesday, the test results came back negative.

Recor was charged by Maryland State Police with negligent driving vehicle in careless and imprudent manner endangering property, life and person. The charge carries a fine of $140.

This is not the first time Recor has damaged his city vehicle. Most recently, in mid-June, approximately $1,500 in repairs was necessary after a gasoline can toppled over inside his vehicle. While in the city shop for those repairs, he asked for his windows to be tinted as well. That work was completed.

It’s been confirmed this incident alone did not lead to this week’s resignation, but it played a significant part. The decision was made to accept Recor’s resignation during Monday’s closed session. However, a closed session was held on Thursday regarding Recor’s accident and possible termination but the council waited to review anticipated police reports prior to making a final decision. That closed session meeting on Thursday reportedly involved high-ranking city officials and the council sought their views on Recor. It’s no secret relations have been strained between Recor and select staff members at times with at least a few employees actually keeping an informal running tab of money Recor cost the city through damage to his vehicles as well as computers and electronic devices.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan stated Recor worked until close of business on Monday and took his leave at that time.

“It was a mutual decision. That is the only detail I can give you because it is a personnel matter,” Meehan said. “The City Charter states that in the absence of the city manager the mayor assumes the role until another city manager is hired to fill the position. As of right now, I am the acting city manager.”

This will be Meehan’s second stint standing in as city manager. In October 2011, the mayor assumed the position for nine months following the forced resignation of former city manager Dennis Dare, who now serves on council.

“We could hire an interim city manager but the desire of the council is to go ahead and have me assume that position, and to immediately work with the human resources director to return to the council with a plan to begin to advertise for the position,” Meehan said.

Last November three new councilmembers — Wayne Hartman, Matthew James and Tony DeLuca — were elected to council, and having not dealt with the previous city manager search Meehan briefed them on how the process will begin.

“We will be coming back recommending a national search, which would include anybody internally who would want to apply. That is the right thing to do for a city of our size and for a position of that importance to find somebody we think fits what we are looking for in a city manager,” the mayor said.

The process will most likely mirror the previous city manager search, according to Meehan.

“We will interview national search firms, choose the appropriate firm, and move forward in hiring them to begin the search for city manager. The national firms have the data base and all the information that helps get through the initial process that would take up more time than our human resources director and the department has,” the mayor said. “Last time it was nine months. Hopefully this time it won’t take that long. It’s a different council in a different time but I know the council is going to want to follow the right path to hire the right person. There is a cost associated with it but it is one of those things that you have to do it and you have to do it right.”

The mayor acknowledged the positive attributes Recor brought to Ocean City in his three years serving as city manager.

“When David interviewed for the position, he stood out as the best candidate, and he was hired. David brought a lot of good things to Ocean City. He helped us get on track with the strategic planning, which was his forte; planning and setting forth agendas for the Mayor and City Council was something that he excelled at. During his tenure here it was something that he started, will be left and will continue onward,” Meehan said. “David is a good man and I wish him all the best.”

Recor, an International City/County Management Association credentialed manager since 2007, was hired by the city in May 2012, by a 4-3 vote of the council, after Dare was terminated by the City Council at that time. Recor came to the city from Fort Pierce, Fla. after a nationwide search.

In September 2011, the previous council majority — comprised of former council members Jim Hall, Joe Hall, Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas — voted in closed session to ask for former city manager Dennis Dare, who had been the chief administrative officer since 1990, to resign, and if Dare did not resign he would be terminated. The reason given was “a change in management direction.” Those in opposition were councilmembers Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight. Subsequently, Dare submitted his resignation. A year later, Dare was voted to serve on the council.

In October 2011, the council majority voted to conduct a national search to hire a city manager. The Town of Ocean City hired Springsted Inc. to conduct the national search for city manager leading to Recor being hired in May 2012 and filling the position in June 2012.

Initially the city offered the position to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, who declined. As of Tuesday, Adkins stated he has not been offered the position, either interim or full-time, this time around.

After the city and Recor initially reached an impasse regarding terms of employment, Recor eventually agreed to an annual salary of $147,000 and three weeks paid vacation the first year increasing to five every year after as well as $10,000 to assist with moving expenses.

The signing of the contract came after a culmination of a stormy month for Recor and Ocean City. Recor’s identity was revealed three weeks prior to being hired after The Dispatch obtained former Councilman Joe Hall’s cell phone records, which confirmed that he called his “front runner” in the process on April 11, 2012 and had a 13-minute conversation to discuss the nature of the council-manager form of government.

The cell phone number was tracked to Recor, who was at the time the city manager of Fort Pierce, Fla., a diverse coastal town with a population of 44,000.

Once it was proven Recor was in the mix of the next city manager search process in Ocean City, the Fort Pierce Commission began to ask questions. Recor initially told commission members he withdrew from the Ocean City process in March, but it was later discovered on the day he sent his emailed withdrawal he was convinced by the city’s search firm to stay in the running since he was the favorite.

On April 13, 2012 two days after Joe Hall called him, Recor and another finalist had their last interviews with council members in Ocean City. On May 1, 2012, the council voted 4-3 to authorize Springsted, Inc. to begin contract negotiations with Recor.

On May 7, 2012, Recor told his Fort Pierce commissioners he was staying with the city, but he never officially said he was out of the Ocean City process. At that same meeting, Recor was blasted by Commissioner Tom Perona, who sought a special meeting to discuss his termination.

After Perona let him have it, Recor reportedly knew his days in Fort Pierce as city manager were about to come to a close. That’s reportedly when contract negotiations between Recor and the city heated up, and a few days later Ocean City received a completed employment agreement from Recor.

In an interview in May 2012, one month before he officially started in Ocean City, Recor outlined his vision for Ocean City.

“I think the department heads and employees in Ocean City will find that I’m actually a very collaborative manager. I involve the department heads in the decision-making process. I believe it’s important to have as many eyes on a problem as you can. In the end, I accept responsibility for the decision, but I do believe in ‘group think’ and identifying options and alternatives and presenting the council with those,” Recor said. “I am a math guy. I love working with spreadsheets and doing quantitative analysis. One thing I emphasis to my department heads and elected officials is as a conservative steward of the public’s funds that I keep the financial solvency of the organization at the forefront of every decision that we make.”

When Recor came on board in 2012, he became Ocean City’s fourth city manager, following Tony Barrett, Joe Braun and Dennis Dare.

Council Holds Off On Exact Amount Of Building Permit Fee Hikes

OCEAN CITY – City officials held off approving an increase in permit fees this week until a specific price is reached. In the meantime, the city is looking toward a more user-friendly online permitting process.

During the fiscal year 2016 budget discussion, the Mayor and City Council requested a review of the permit fee structure in the Building Department, resulting in Chief Building Official Kevin Brown coming before the legislative body on Tuesday afternoon requesting an increase in permit fees.

Currently, the stand alone permit fee for electrical and mechanical permits is $30. According to Brown, to support administrative costs, based on staff time needed to process and issue permits, the fee should be increased to a minimum of $45 if not more.

Brown explained a $6 fee was implemented in 2004 for electrical permits. This rate was raised to $6.30 in 2009 and $30 in 2010.

“The Building Department generally charges fees for permits and services, and such fees are intended to defray the cost of operating the department. Ideally the fees charged should equal operating costs … the fees currently charged for the electrical and mechanical permits clearly is not enough to offset the entire staff involved in this process,” Brown said.

From staff review of the application to verification of the contractor, entering the application in the system, Zoning Department reviews, plan review and notes, field inspections, entering inspection results and having the file scanned and stored, staff is spending almost two hours issuing a permit. The average hourly rate of combined staff hours is $25.75 totaling the actual staff cost to $47.12.

“My request is the fee be raised to a minimum of $45. I think $50 per permit would be more realistic,” Brown said.

For comparison, the City of Salisbury charges $40 for a mechanical permit, the town of Easton charges a minimum of $50, and the City of Annapolis charges a minimum of $90.

In regards to electrical permits, the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Virginia Beach charge $80 for 200 amp and up, Wicomico and Worcester counties both charge $25 and the City of Baltimore varies from $25 to $100.

Councilman Matthew James questioned the significant increase being recommended.

“To be honest, I have always thought the expenses were low, and I think the thought behind it was if we kept the cost low then perhaps the quantity of permits would increase,” Brown responded. “There were 84 electrical permits in 2014 and 215 mechanical permits but back in 2004 when we first started charging $6 for a permit we had 34 permits, so permits have almost tripled. Again, I think it is time that we work within our means because we have been working in the negative for some time now.”

In speaking with many contractors, Councilman Wayne Hartman brought a few recommendations to the table. First he pointed out the majority of electrical inspections are completed by a third party hired by the contractor saving city staff that time. Brown rebutted that a third party may inspect electric but not flood requirements, which led to Hartman’s second recommendation.

With the new Flood Insurance Rate Maps being recently approved in Ocean City, contractors recommended the town publish a map of what air conditioning and heating stand heights would be required in certain sections of the town ultimately eliminating a step from the permit process.

Also, the issuance of an electrical permit should be eliminated for the replacement of an air conditioning/heating unit because the wiring is not being replaced, just the equipment. Hartman pointed out Worcester County does not require an electrical permit for replacing a unit.

“We are talking about three different things that you’re lumping all together,” Hartman said. “I recommend the $30 electrical fee stay the same as our inspector doesn’t need to go out on that, waive the $30 for a replacement, and if you want to charge for a new install that takes a new design and inspections, sure $50 to $60 is certainly in mind.”

However, Hartman’s colleagues did not agree. Council President Lloyd Martin was the first to point out when replacing an older unit the equipment and wiring needs to be lifted to meet today’s flood requirements.

“I don’t believe that we can give a book or put it on the Internet and tell them the elevation the stand has to be when we can’t even get them to go online to file a permit,” Councilman Doug Cymek, who owns a construction company, said. “Ultimately, I would hope the software would be set up in such a fashion that a couple of these first steps can be eliminated, such as checking credentials … where is the fairness in making the taxpayers subsidize the cost of the inspections for a small group of people that require them? I just think they should pay their fair share. I am in favor of the increase to compensate our efforts.”

Brown interjected he is planning on meeting with Information Technology Manager Nancy Bloxom in October to review an updated version of the town’s online permitting software that is said to be much more user-friendly.

Hartman made a motion to postpone the discussion until October after the new updated software is implemented and staff has a better idea of how much manual time is being spent issuing permits. James seconded the motion but the majority of the council voted in opposition.

“I recall during budget discussions that the building department expense exceeds their income by quite a bit for the last 4 to 5 years at least, and I believe it should pay for itself. Why should the general public be supporting a service required by a small group of people?,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “It should make money, not lose money. Historically we have tried to keep the fees so they do balance out but the expenses have gone up and the revenues haven’t. It is a good first step … it is just as easy to address the issue today and when it does happen we can revisit it. If it needs to be reduced, then it’s reduced. We should be doing that constantly with everything anyways.”

The majority of the council was in consensus the electrical and mechanical permit fees are in need of an increase but were not prepared to settle on a number. The council voted to have staff takes a closer look and return to the Mayor and City Council with further recommendation. The discussion will be postponed until the first work session in August on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Crime Down In June In Ocean City; Year To Do Numbers Find 5% Drop In Total Incidents

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Half way through the year, Ocean City has registered decreases across the board in crime compared to this time last year.

On Monday, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro reported the month of June’s crime statistics before the Police Commission. June is typically the busiest month for the police department due to the increase in high school and college-aged visitors.

According to the report, June’s total calls for service, including traffic stops, business checks and assistance to citizens, totaled 14,721, which is a 9.1-percent decrease from June 2014 when there were 16,191 calls for service.
Out of that total, 10,806 were officer initiated, which is a 9.8-percent decrease from June 2014, and 3,915 were citizen initiated, which is 7-percent decrease from June 2014.

The total number of calls for service, excluding traffic stops, business checks and assisting citizens, totaled 9,750, which is a 6.7-percent decrease from June 2014 when there were 10,447 calls for service. Out of the total, 6,077 were officer initiated, which is a 6.2-percent decrease from June 2014, and 3,673 were citizen initiated, which is a 7.4-percent decrease from June 2014.
Out of the top 25 calls for service, the majority of the categories decreased, starting with traffic stops falling to 2,754 call for service in June this year from 3,522 in June of last year; city ordinance violations decreased to 1,072 this year from 1,263 last year; disorderly decreased to 1,043 this year from 1,206 last year; assist to citizens decreased to 854 this year from 856 last year; 911 hang up calls decreased to 602 this year from 676 last year; alcohol violations decreased to 593 this year from 659 last year; suspicious person or activity decreased to 375 this year from 477 last year; check on welfare decreased to 316 this year from 324 last year; collisions decreased to 298 this year compared to 309 last year; assist to OC EMS decreased to 262 this year from 281 last year; CDS violations decreased to 260 this year from 404 last year; theft already occurred decreased 241 this year from 295 this year; assist to motorists decreased to 136 this year from 158 last year; animal complaints decreased to 129 this year from 382 last year; assist to the fire company decreased to 84 this year from 89 last year; and civil disputes decreased to 73 this year from 122 last year.

The categories that increased in the month of June start with parking complaints increasing to 534 calls for service this year from 249 last year; malicious destruction of property increased to 173 this year from 128 last year; noise complaints/violations increased to 133 this year from 123 last year; domestic assault/dispute increased to 105 this year from 95 last year; public safety concern increased to 100 this year from 79 last year; alarm premise increased to 73 this year from 69 last year; and report of a fight increased to 63 this year from 53 last year.

There were 590 arrests made in June and 43 criminal citations issued. There were 78 drug arrests made and 248 drug citations issued. There were 69 DUI arrests made and 43 weapon arrests, according to OCPD data.

At the end of June, a weekly breakdown reflects a 5.6-percent decrease in total crime so far this year compared to this time last year.
Under Part 1 Crimes there have been no homicides as of the end of June in 2014 and 2015; one shooting as of the end of June in 2015 compared to none this time last year; 13 forcible rapes as of the end of June this year compared to 22 as of the end of June last year; eight robberies as of the end of June this year compared to 10 as of the end of June last year; 39 aggravated assaults as of the end of June this year compared to 29 as of the end of June last year; 90 burglaries as of the end of June this year compared to 178 as of the end of June last year; 428 larcenies as of the end of June this year compared to 439 as of the end of June last year; eight auto thefts as of the end of June this year and 13 as of the end of June last year; and one case of arson as of the end of June this year compared to none as of the end of June last year.

There were 377 common assaults by the end of June 2015 compared to 339 by the end of June 2014 and 34 minor sex offenses by the end of June 2015 compared to 28 by the end of June 2014, resulting in an overall total of 999 crimes at the end of June 2015 compared to 1,058 at the end of June 2014.

There were 24 incidents in June where a Controlled Electronic Weapon (CEW), also known as a Taser, was involved compared to 28 incidents in June of last year. However, out of those incidents only four times was a CEW deployed.

On Sunday, June 14, an officer observed a male suspect attempting to break into the Court House on 65th Street. When the officer entered the vestibule where the suspect was located the suspect began acting hostile toward the officer. After the officer displayed his CEW the suspect did not change his demeanor, so the officer conducted a warning arc with his CEW still gaining no compliance. The officer then targeted the suspect with his CEW, and the suspected shouted, “Come and get me.” Based on this statement, as well as the suspect’s hostile demeanor the officer deployed his CEW into the suspect, and gained full compliance from the suspect. There were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Wednesday, June 17, an officer was about to issue a suspect a citation for an open container violation but the suspect fled on foot. A short time later another officer located the suspect who attempted to flee. The officer chased after the suspect and deployed his CEW into the suspect, which allowed a third officer to start applying handcuffs. When the electric charge came to an end the suspect began to resist again, so the officer attempted to administer another charge but inadvertently hit the wrong button on his CEW, which discharged a second set of probes. However, these probes did not strike anyone and there were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Saturday, June 27, an officer was dispatched to a domestic assault in progress involving an intoxicated suspect. Upon arrival, the victim pointed out the suspect, who was her husband, approaching the officer in an aggressive manner. When the suspect refused to obey the officer’s order to sit down, which involved the suspect swatting the officer’s hand away, the officer targeted the suspect with his CEW, which did not gain the suspect’s compliance. The suspect continued to verbally threaten and approach the officer in an aggressive manner, which is when the officer deployed his CEW. Although the CEW took full effect on the suspect, the suspect began to resist arrest as soon as the electrical charging cycle came to an end. The officer then conducted a drive stun with his CEW, which gained the suspect’s full compliance. There were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Sunday, June 28, an officer observed two subjects engaged in a fight. The two subjects did not show any intention to cease fighting despite the officer announcing her presence. The officer deployed her CEW into one of the suspects, which stopped the fight. There were no injuries to anyone involved.

Mayor Cautions ‘An Awful Lot Of Discussion’ Before Zoning Passed; Realtors Urge Council To Not Allow Limitations

Wearing red at City Hall to show opposition to a proposed new zoning district in Ocean City were, from left, Sarah Rayne, Government and Public Affairs Director for Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR); Jamie Wetzelberger, CAR Government Affairs Committee Chair; Joe Wilson, member of the CAR Board of Directors and CAR RPAC Committee Chair; and Chris Mitchell of Coldwell Banker Vacations. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY – As promised, members of the Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR) made their opposition to a proposed new zoning district known this week, sparking Mayor Rick Meehan to respond to those concerns.

CAR members, rental management companies and property owners gathered at Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council regular session to demonstrate their opposition to the recommended establishment of an R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City that would prohibit rentals less than 12 months.

At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints, with the majority of those complaints deriving from Mallard Island. At that time, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District in regulating short-term and long-term rentals.

Although there was no official action made to city laws, the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues and enhance enforcement. Despite the reformation of PRESS, close to 80 percent of Mallard Island residents signed and submitted a petition requesting the implementation of an R-1A zoning district.

Subsequently, the Planning and Zoning Commission held another public hearing last month and voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to consider the formation of an R-1A zoning district, which currently does not exist in Ocean City’s code.

In response, CAR launched a grassroots campaign to oppose the proposed legislation to preserve the future of Ocean City’s real estate industry. Wearing red, those in opposition attended the Mayor and City Council’s meeting this week even though discussion regarding an R-1A zoning district was not scheduled. The discussion is scheduled for the Mayor and City Council’s work session on July 28.

However, Meehan, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, took the opportunity to clarify a few misconceptions regarding the proposed enabling legislation.

“Everybody has to understand, the only district that this is even being considered for is in the R-1 Single Family District, and so if you live in a multi-family area, a townhouse or condominiums that is not what is being discussed,” the mayor said. “The R-1 zoning district is the most restrictive district … you are allowed one home on a property in an R-1 area. That is what makes it distinctive and separate from all other areas. It is the R-1 areas where a lot of our year-round residents live, and they have had some problems with some of the rentals taking place in those areas.”

Meehan furthered, if an R-1A district is passed, it is only enabling legislation where a neighborhood zoned as R-1 can request to become R-1A through an application and approval process by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Mayor and City Council.

“I am not here tonight to tell you this recommendation is the solution to be chosen by the Mayor and City Council because we have not even had a chance to discuss it but if you look at our Strategic Plan one of our goals is to make Ocean City a more livable community for its residents, and to continue to promote quality year-round communities,” the mayor said. “There is an awful lot of discussion that will have to take place for this to pass.”

Meehan recalled the meetings that took place a year ago following growing complaints over problem rental properties.

“I am not sure everybody took it seriously,” the mayor said. “The city has picked up enforcement recently, but I am not sure all the property owners have taken it seriously to comply with all the rules and zoning ordinances in regard to what is allowed to rent and how many people are allowed to occupy any given residence, and I am really not sure that the rental companies did their part to address some of the problem properties, so I suggest as this is being discussed further that we all continue to work together to resolve these issues as a community should do to resolve issues.”

Joe Wilson, a member of CAR’s board of directors speaking on behalf of the association, came before the Mayor and City Council asking for a partnership.

“Even though my property is located in the R-2 district, I still sympathize with someone who owns a property in the R-1 district who purchased it as an investment and may have that right taken away. We certainly do not want to punish people who try to make a good investment in town,” Wilson said. “We need enforcement from all parties; landlords, rental agents, neighbors and law enforcement. We need it coming from all directions. I wouldn’t be opposed to harsher penalties not just for landlords but also for tenants. We also need to punish those who are operating without a rental license. I am also concerned over the legal implications. I have talked to some of the attorneys in town who say this may be a potential constitutional issue in regards to equal protection … just want to make sure we don’t tie anymore of the town’s money up in a legal battle.”

A press release from CAR later in the week reported the association has teamed with the Maryland Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of REALTORS® to mobilize its membership in opposition of the R-1A district, “because ALL private property rights matter, and that includes the rights of rental property owners in residential neighborhoods who purchased their properties under the guise of making a valuable investment in beautiful Ocean City,” according to Vicki Harmon, president of the CAR board of directors.

Harmon added, “We also do not want to see limitations be placed on residential properties, to the point where they can’t be sold to future investors because they can’t be rented to tourists.

Surf Machine’s Summer Plans Derailed

Surf

OCEAN CITY – A Flow Rider surf machine is “dead in the water” for this summer due to a potential lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the Flow Rider surfing machine that was originally approved to be located downtown on the former Cropper’s concrete plant parking lot was scheduled to come before the Planning and Zoning Commission requesting approval of a Conditional Use permit to instead be located in the 45th Street Village. However the item was withdrawn from the agenda without any reason given.

In June, the Lazy Lizard LLC came before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) requesting a special use exception to allow construction and operation of a Flow Rider surfing machine, to be known as OC Big Wave, in a Manufacturing (M) District.

The proposed site was the former Cropper’s concrete plant parking lot located adjacent to the Lazy Lizard restaurant. As proposed the site would include ample parking, a snack shack, smoothie bar, changing rooms, bathrooms, merchandise and ticket sales.

The BZA determined the use of a Flow Rider is not detrimental to the neighborhood and granted the special exception.

At that time, the OC Big Wave aimed to open by July 4, said Todd Hays of T & W Redevelopment, who manages the Lazy Lizard Marina, Sea Rocket and Jet Ski operations in that area.

Since then, T & W Redevelopment have been in discussion with Avi Sibony, owner of the 45th Street On The Bay commercial development, who is interested in partnering with the operation and allowing the Flow Rider to instead be located in his village with a long-term lease versus a year-to-year lease with the Cropper property.

“We want to move it because the traffic that we could expose the ride to at 45th Street Village is just much more than the old Cropper Concrete Plant,” Hays said on Wednesday. “Also, the landlord [Sibony] was willing to be a partner in it with a multiple-year lease, so we wouldn’t have to potentially move it for some time.”

According to Hays, Sibony was originally interested in installing a Flow Rider surf machine a few years ago in front of the former Shallow Waters restaurant on the southeast side of 45th Street Village. However, Sibony recently had a hotel site plan approved to be built instead.

As part of that site plan, a retail pad on the northeast corner of the village in front of OC Steamers was also approved, which is now the proposed location for the Flow Rider.

Prior to construction, 45th Street Village LLC will have to receive a Conditional Use permit to allow a water-related recreational activity in the Shopping Center District (SC-1). The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday evening until it was removed due to the threat of a lawsuit.

“Our friends at Jolly Roger’s threatened a lawsuit against the Town of Ocean City and T & W Redevelopment to overturn the special exception the Flow Rider had gained. Until we can get that sorted out, I am going to steer clear,” Hays said. “I don’t know what the motivation is.”

According to Hays, the plan is to meet with Charles “Buddy” Jenkins, owner of Jolly Roger Amusement Park, to discuss his concern.

“If he doesn’t want to see it at 45th Street Village, we would love to see it at Jolly Roger’s,” Hays said. “I am also seeking a meeting with Frontier Town. If it is going to be such a problem to have it on the island, perhaps it could be there.”

The Flow Rider has been purchased and delivered but until it finds a home its operation is dead in the water for this summer, Hays said.

As of Thursday, Jolly Roger was unavailable to comment regarding the potential law suit.

Mayor: ‘An Awful Lot Of Discussion’ Before OC Zoning Change Approved

Attending this week's Mayor and Council meeting to express opposition to a new proposed zoning classification were, from left, Sarah Rayne, Government and Public Affairs Director for Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR); Jamie Wetzelberger, 2015 CAR Government Affairs Committee Chair; Joe Wilson, member of the CAR Board of Directors and 2015 CAR RPAC Committee Chair; and Chris Mitchell of Coldwell Banker Vacations.

OCEAN CITY – As promised, members of the Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR) made their opposition to a proposed new zoning district known this week, sparking Mayor Rick Meehan to respond to those concerns.

CAR members, rental management companies and property owners gathered at Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council regular session to demonstrate their opposition to the recommended establishment of an R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City that would prohibit rentals less than 12 months.

At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints, with the majority of those complaints deriving from Mallard Island. At that time, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District in regulating short-term and long-term rentals.

Although there was no official action made to city laws, the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues and enhance enforcement. Despite the reformation of PRESS, close to 80 percent of Mallard Island residents signed and submitted a petition requesting the implementation of an R-1A zoning district.

Subsequently, the Planning and Zoning Commission held another public hearing last month and voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to consider the formation of an R-1A zoning district, which currently does not exist in Ocean City’s code.

In response, CAR launched a grassroots campaign to oppose the proposed legislation to preserve the future of Ocean City’s real estate industry. Wearing red, those in opposition attended the Mayor and City Council’s meeting this week even though discussion regarding an R-1A zoning district was not scheduled. The discussion is scheduled for the Mayor and City Council’s work session on July 28.

However, Meehan, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, took the opportunity to clarify a few misconceptions regarding the proposed enabling legislation.

“Everybody has to understand, the only district that this is even being considered for is in the R-1 Single Family District, and so if you live in a multi-family area, a townhouse or condominiums that is not what is being discussed,” the mayor said. “The R-1 zoning district is the most restrictive district … you are allowed one home on a property in an R-1 area. That is what makes it distinctive and separate from all other areas. It is the R-1 areas where a lot of our year-round residents live, and they have had some problems with some of the rentals taking place in those areas.”

Meehan furthered, if an R-1A district is passed, it is only enabling legislation where a neighborhood zoned as R-1 can request to become R-1A through an application and approval process by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Mayor and City Council.

“I am not here tonight to tell you this recommendation is the solution to be chosen by the Mayor and City Council because we have not even had a chance to discuss it but if you look at our Strategic Plan one of our goals is to make Ocean City a more livable community for its residents, and to continue to promote quality year-round communities,” the mayor said. “There is an awful lot of discussion that will have to take place for this to pass.”

Meehan recalled the meetings that took place a year ago following growing complaints over problem rental properties.

“I am not sure everybody took it seriously,” the mayor said. “The city has picked up enforcement recently, but I am not sure all the property owners have taken it seriously to comply with all the rules and zoning ordinances in regard to what is allowed to rent and how many people are allowed to occupy any given residence, and I am really not sure that the rental companies did their part to address some of the problem properties, so I suggest as this is being discussed further that we all continue to work together to resolve these issues as a community should do to resolve issues.”

Joe Wilson, a member of CAR’s board of directors speaking on behalf of the association, came before the Mayor and City Council asking for a partnership.

“Even though my property is located in the R-2 district, I still sympathize with someone who owns a property in the R-1 district who purchased it as an investment and may have that right taken away. We certainly do not want to punish people who try to make a good investment in town,” Wilson said. “We need enforcement from all parties; landlords, rental agents, neighbors and law enforcement. We need it coming from all directions. I wouldn’t be opposed to harsher penalties not just for landlords but also for tenants. We also need to punish those who are operating without a rental license. I am also concerned over the legal implications. I have talked to some of the attorneys in town who say this may be a potential constitutional issue in regards to equal protection … just want to make sure we don’t tie anymore of the town’s money up in a legal battle.”

A press release from CAR later in the week reported the association has teamed with the Maryland Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of REALTORS® to mobilize its membership in opposition of the R-1A district, “because ALL private property rights matter, and that includes the rights of rental property owners in residential neighborhoods who purchased their properties under the guise of making a valuable investment in beautiful Ocean City,” according to Vicki Harmon, president of the CAR board of directors.

Harmon added, “We also do not want to see limitations be placed on residential properties, to the point where they can’t be sold to future investors because they can’t be rented to tourists.”

 

 

OC’s Walk Smart Campaign Again Urging Safety

The OC Walk Smart campaign mascot “Crab the Lifeguard” is pictured with some volunteers displaying some of the marketing materials that are being featured in town. Photo by Joanne Shriner

OCEAN CITY – As the Town of Ocean City prepares for the 4th of July holiday and the peak summer season, state and local partners joined together to remind visitors and residents to: Walk Smart, Bike Smart and Drive Smart.

On Tuesday morning, Maryland Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Dennis Schrader joined Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, Ocean City Police Captain Kevin Kirstein and SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer in front of the newly installed pedestrian crosswalk on 101st Street to reiterate the message of the Walk Smart Campaign.

“I am excited to kick off the 2015 Ocean City Walk Smart Campaign,” Drewer said. “We are looking forward to another successful summer here in Ocean City. We are here in Ocean City and communities throughout the State because we know that one traffic fatality is one to many.”

The ongoing effort behind the Walk Smart Campaign combines engineering, education and enforcement to save lives and prevent injuries along Coastal Highway and other Ocean City roadways.

After a tragic 2012 season that ended with two pedestrian crash fatalities and a dramatic increase in pedestrian injuries, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) reported no pedestrian related fatalities for the next two seasons after the successful 2013 Ocean City Walk Smart Campaign launch. With the 2014 season showing a slight increase in pedestrian-related crash injuries and more than 30 bicycle incidents, the Walk Smart Campaign continues to expand pedestrian and bicycle safety messaging.

Pedestrians are urged to use crosswalks and wait for “walk” signals, while bicyclists are reminded to ride in the direction of traffic, avoid distractions and follow all traffic signs and signals.  Drivers should stop for pedestrians, watch for bicyclists and share the road.

“Before the summer season, SHA has been working very closely with Ocean City’s taskforce on a number of improvements throughout town focusing on bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Drewer said.

In addition to promoting safety messages, SHA continues to add engineering enhancements including: the new mid-block crosswalk and signal at 101st Street, median lighting at 49th Street and curb bump outs at each intersection of Baltimore Ave. between 9th and 15th streets.

SHA installed “wrong way” bike signs at 45 locations and installed new crosswalks at two intersections: Coastal Highway and South Division St., and Routes 50 and 611 in West Ocean City. In total, more than $1.5 million has been invested in education efforts and engineering improvements along Coastal Highway and other state-owned roadways in Ocean City.

“Engineers constantly monitor and evaluate the roadway system by retiming signals, enhancing turning movements at intersections, placing ‘no pedestrian crossing’ curb stencils and installing signs in key areas along Coastal Highway to direct pedestrians to safe crossings,” Drewer said.  “We are dedicated to improving engineering efforts in partnership with the Town of Ocean City.”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out there are up to eight lanes of traffic on Coastal Highway with a significant increase in cars, pedestrians and bicyclists during the summer months. The Town of Ocean City has one of Maryland’s largest populations during the summer with a changing population each week.

“Here we are in 2015 kicking this off just in time as we enter the busiest part of the summer,” Mayor Meehan said. “In Ocean City, each week we have 200,000 new people coming into town, so we have to continue to repeat our message to make sure that everybody is aware of the Walk Smart Campaign … There has been a lot of meetings since last year, and significant changes in our programs. We are continuing to see pedestrian incidents decrease and we want to continue that … Safety is the number one priority in Ocean City. We want everyone to arrive safely, be safe while they’re here, and return home safely.”

Maryland Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Dennis Schrader recognized the grass roots effort of enhancing pedestrian safety in Ocean City has begun to influence changes throughout the state.

“The bottom line is our efforts are working, and since the launch of the Ocean City Walk Smart Campaign in 2013 there have been no pedestrian fatalities in the Town of Ocean City, which is terrific. We have to stay vigilant and focused on our efforts. We are going to continue to make progress,” Schrader said. “Gov. [Larry] Hogan is concerned over getting to Ocean City a lot safer. He just announced $2 million in highway funding, and that included $160 million to widen MD 404 in Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Caroline counties to go from a two-lane to a four-lane divided highway. He also delivered Worcester County’s number one transportation priority by investing $65 million to widen US 113 to a four-lane divided highway. This way motorist will not only be safe going to and from Ocean City but with the Walk Smart Campaign they will be safer while they’re here enjoying their vacation.”

OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein announced after an initial uptick in pedestrian-related crash injuries that number has fallen this season.

“I can tell you so far this summer we are down 60 percent in our pedestrian crashes and we are extremely excited about that. That means 60 percent less times that we have to make those horrible phone calls to a loved one saying there has been a tragedy,” Kirstein said. “The statistics are something that we should be very proud of, and we hope if you have an encounter with a police officer you take from that the officer was looking out for your safety, and trying to make sure the memory you have of your Ocean City vacation is a great one, a positive one and not of tragedy. Walk smart, bike smart, and drive smart while enjoying your time in Ocean City, MD.”

At the conclusion of the get together, OC Walk Smart partners unveiled the campaign’s mascot, “Crab the Lifeguard”, who will engage the community and remind pedestrians to use crosswalks and wait for signals. Drivers also must stay alert, stop for pedestrians and travel the posted speed limit.  Bicyclists need to ride with traffic and obey stop signs and red lights.

 

OC Real Estate Industry Rallies Against Proposed Rental Changes; New District Would Prohibit Weekly Rentals In Certain Areas

OCEAN CITY – The local real estate community is rallying together and seeking support this week with the Mayor and City Council expected to deliberate this month on the implementation of a district that could ban short term rentals in certain parts of town.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing last month and voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to establish a R-1A Single Family Residential District that would provide an outlet for neighborhoods to prohibit rentals shorter than one year.

The proposed ordinance states, “The purpose of this district is to provide for established year-round residents to maintain the integrity of family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and to make the area a sanctuary for people living in the neighborhood and to avoid the adverse effects of transient short term rentals. This district is for single-family residential development, together with accessory uses as may be necessary or are normally compatible with residential surroundings.”

The permitted use in an R-1A district would be a residence used for a year-round, or 12-month minimum, rental. Short-term rentals, for example the common weekly vacation rentals, would be prohibited. If an R-1A district is added to the code, a neighborhood can apply to rezone and a public hearing would be held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the request.

During last month’s public hearing on the ordinance, several Mallard Island residents who live 15th Street bayside and other citizens spoke in favor of the proposed R-1A district but a larger force of rental property owners and Realtors in attendance voiced opposition.

However, the commission voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to approve the new R-1A district. The commission described the district as “another tool in the toolbox” recognizing it will only be considered if requested by a neighborhood.

The Planning and Zoning Commission’s favorable recommendation to implement the R-1A district is scheduled to be discussed by the Mayor and City Council at the July 14 work session.

Prior to the discussion, Coastal Association of Realtors (CAR) and Coldwell Banker Vacations are working to encourage their membership to voice their concerns in the meantime.

“This measure directly impacts all single-family investment properties in Ocean City,” CAR submitted in marketing materials this week in regards to the proposed R-1A district.

Both CAR and Coldwell Banker Vacations are advising their membership to attend Monday’s Mayor and City Council regular session, call the Planning and Zoning Department or email the Mayor and City Council to voice concerns.

“If you do not actively oppose this measure, there is a very real possibility that it will be approved, setting a dangerous precedent that could spread throughout the State of Maryland,” CAR said in its marketing message.

In a letter, titled “Proposed Legislation That Would Impact Your Investment Property,” addressed to Coldwell Banker Vacations membership, Regional Vice President Christopher Mitchell and General Manager William Ritz expressed fear the R-1A district will begin to ban vacationers from Ocean City. Letters of opposition to the Planning and Zoning Commission dated June 10, 2015, and to the Mayor and Council dated Aug. 5, 2014 were also provided to the rental property owners.

“… The tourism industry is what drives our local economy. From the many restaurants and shops to the hotels and charter fishing boats, without our annual influx of tourists, none of these businesses would survive. One of the things that make Ocean City great is the variety of accommodations options from which to choose,” the letter to the planning commission states. “The vacation rental industry is unique in that it offers not the only more variety for vacationers, but also beneficial way for people to purchase a second home. Buyers are able to off-set expenses associated with second home ownership by offering it as a short term rental. Obviously, the ability to use and enjoy the property themselves is not possible if the property is rented only on a 12 month basis. In such cases, it is no longer a vacation home, but strictly an investment property and most of the buyers in the secondary home market are not looking for that type of arrangement.”

The letter cites a recent article published on www.vrmintel.com demonstrating how the implementation of restrictive policies in California has negatively impacted home sales in that market compared to the national average.

According to the article, four major California cities have voted to ban traditional vacation rentals of less than 30 days, resulting in a decline in vacation home sales of 5 percent in 2014 and of 6 percent in 2013. While, the National Association of Realtors published its 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey which reported that sales in 2014 were up 57.4 percent over 2013 in the market in the United States as a whole.

“These facts show in real terms that the restriction of property rights negatively impacts property values, which is a direct contradiction to one the stated purposes of this proposal for Ocean City,” Mitchell and Ritz stated.

The letter recognizes there were a total of 13 R-1 zoned properties that received complaints in the past two years, which represents only 4 percent of the total amount of properties licensed R-1 zoned properties in town.

“Any decision to alter zoning regulations that will affect current and future generations of property owners and potential investors, based on such a small number of issues, certainly gives all appearances of an overreaction,” they stated. “Better enforcement of the current regulations is the best answer. Rental companies and owners alike need to work harder to ensure that the proper information is being relayed when offering properties for rent in any current R1 district. If problem situations occur in these properties, quick action by the property owner or rental company must be taken to address it. If renters are found to be in violation of the terms of their rental agreement, the agreement should be terminated and the property vacated.”

The letter echoed Joe Wilson, who represented CAR during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing, in his concern that a R-1A district will create a domino effect that will regulate short-term rentals out of all single family areas in Ocean Cit.

“Vacationers who choose these types of properties will not simply move to multi-family areas, but will take their business to other municipalities that will better welcome them and cater to their needs. These families will establish their vacation traditions in a different resort, and Ocean City will lose these visitors for generations to come,” the letter concluded. “These renters will no longer fall in love with Ocean City, and will not decide to purchase that vacation home on our shores, but will do so somewhere else. Our local economy will be impacted.”

The most recent letter comes 11 months after Mitchell and then-Regional Vice President Susan Holt addressed the matter in a letter to the Mayor and Council.

“We do not want renters disrupting the peace of others, … Occupancy limits must be disclosed and enforced by the property owner and rental company,” that 2014 letter read. “The renters need to be informed that if they break the rules they will be held responsible for their actions and removed from the property. Let’s all try to improve the situation with better communication and education rather than send our valued visitors elsewhere.”

 

OC Real Estate Industry Rallies Against Proposed Rental Changes; New District Would Prohibit Weekly Rentals In Certain Areas

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – The local real estate community is rallying together and seeking support this week with the Mayor and City Council expected to deliberate this month on the implementation of a district that could ban short term rentals in certain parts of town.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing last month and voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to establish a R-1A Single Family Residential District that would provide an outlet for neighborhoods to prohibit rentals shorter than one year.

The proposed ordinance states, “The purpose of this district is to provide for established year-round residents to maintain the integrity of family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and to make the area a sanctuary for people living in the neighborhood and to avoid the adverse effects of transient short term rentals. This district is for single-family residential development, together with accessory uses as may be necessary or are normally compatible with residential surroundings.”

The permitted use in an R-1A district would be a residence used for a year-round, or 12-month minimum, rental. Short-term rentals, for example the common weekly vacation rentals, would be prohibited. If an R-1A district is added to the code, a neighborhood can apply to rezone and a public hearing would be held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the request.

During last month’s public hearing on the ordinance, several Mallard Island residents who live 15th Street bayside and other citizens spoke in favor of the proposed R-1A district but a larger force of rental property owners and Realtors in attendance voiced opposition.

However, the commission voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to approve the new R-1A district. The commission described the district as “another tool in the toolbox” recognizing it will only be considered if requested by a neighborhood.

The Planning and Zoning Commission’s favorable recommendation to implement the R-1A district is scheduled to be discussed by the Mayor and City Council at the July 14 work session.

Prior to the discussion, Coastal Association of Realtors (CAR) and Coldwell Banker Vacations are working to encourage their membership to voice their concerns in the meantime.

“This measure directly impacts all single-family investment properties in Ocean City,” CAR submitted in marketing materials this week in regards to the proposed R-1A district.

Both CAR and Coldwell Banker Vacations are advising their membership to attend Monday’s Mayor and City Council regular session, call the Planning and Zoning Department or email the Mayor and City Council to voice concerns.

“If you do not actively oppose this measure, there is a very real possibility that it will be approved, setting a dangerous precedent that could spread throughout the State of Maryland,” CAR said in its marketing message.

In a letter, titled “Proposed Legislation That Would Impact Your Investment Property,” addressed to Coldwell Banker Vacations membership, Regional Vice President Christopher Mitchell and General Manager William Ritz expressed fear the R-1A district will begin to ban vacationers from Ocean City. Letters of opposition to the Planning and Zoning Commission dated June 10, 2015, and to the Mayor and Council dated Aug. 5, 2014 were also provided to the rental property owners.

“… The tourism industry is what drives our local economy. From the many restaurants and shops to the hotels and charter fishing boats, without our annual influx of tourists, none of these businesses would survive. One of the things that make Ocean City great is the variety of accommodations options from which to choose,” the letter to the planning commission states. “The vacation rental industry is unique in that it offers not the only more variety for vacationers, but also beneficial way for people to purchase a second home. Buyers are able to off-set expenses associated with second home ownership by offering it as a short term rental. Obviously, the ability to use and enjoy the property themselves is not possible if the property is rented only on a 12 month basis. In such cases, it is no longer a vacation home, but strictly an investment property and most of the buyers in the secondary home market are not looking for that type of arrangement.”

The letter cites a recent article published on www.vrmintel.com demonstrating how the implementation of restrictive policies in California has negatively impacted home sales in that market compared to the national average.

According to the article, four major California cities have voted to ban traditional vacation rentals of less than 30 days, resulting in a decline in vacation home sales of 5 percent in 2014 and of 6 percent in 2013. While, the National Association of Realtors published its 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey which reported that sales in 2014 were up 57.4 percent over 2013 in the market in the United States as a whole.

“These facts show in real terms that the restriction of property rights negatively impacts property values, which is a direct contradiction to one the stated purposes of this proposal for Ocean City,” Mitchell and Ritz stated.

The letter recognizes there were a total of 13 R-1 zoned properties that received complaints in the past two years, which represents only 4 percent of the total amount of properties licensed R-1 zoned properties in town.

“Any decision to alter zoning regulations that will affect current and future generations of property owners and potential investors, based on such a small number of issues, certainly gives all appearances of an overreaction,” they stated. “Better enforcement of the current regulations is the best answer. Rental companies and owners alike need to work harder to ensure that the proper information is being relayed when offering properties for rent in any current R1 district. If problem situations occur in these properties, quick action by the property owner or rental company must be taken to address it. If renters are found to be in violation of the terms of their rental agreement, the agreement should be terminated and the property vacated.”

The letter echoed Joe Wilson, who represented CAR during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing, in his concern that a R-1A district will create a domino effect that will regulate short-term rentals out of all single family areas in Ocean Cit.

“Vacationers who choose these types of properties will not simply move to multi-family areas, but will take their business to other municipalities that will better welcome them and cater to their needs. These families will establish their vacation traditions in a different resort, and Ocean City will lose these visitors for generations to come,” the letter concluded. “These renters will no longer fall in love with Ocean City, and will not decide to purchase that vacation home on our shores, but will do so somewhere else. Our local economy will be impacted.”

The most recent letter comes 11 months after Mitchell and then-Regional Vice President Susan Holt addressed the matter in a letter to the Mayor and Council.

“We do not want renters disrupting the peace of others, … Occupancy limits must be disclosed and enforced by the property owner and rental company,” that 2014 letter read. “The renters need to be informed that if they break the rules they will be held responsible for their actions and removed from the property. Let’s all try to improve the situation with better communication and education rather than send our valued visitors elsewhere.”