OCEAN CITY – Drafted legislation that would establish an R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City and prohibit short-term rentals was forwarded to public hearing this week in advance of the Mayor and City Council making a final decision.
At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints. There were a couple of public hearings held before the commission to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District for the purpose of regulating short-term and long-term rentals to protect the character and compatibility of the districts as single-family neighborhoods.
The public hearings came on the heels of growing complaints over rental properties. According to the city, there are 3,845 parcels included in the R-1 and MH districts with 276 of those obtaining rental licenses. Between 2013 and now, there have been 67 complaints logged in those areas over 19 months. Only 13 properties received complaints, which is 4 percent of the total number of 276. The complaints received are primarily from residents of the Mallard Island subdivision.
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 enforcement.
A couple of weeks ago, the Planning and Zoning Commission entertained the idea of holding a public hearing on a proposed R-1A Single Family Residential District that would prohibit short-term rentals but first legislation would be drafted.
At that time, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith brought forward a petition signed by close to 80 percent of Mallard Island property owners in favor of the community being rezoned as an R-1A Single Family Residential District, which does not exist in Ocean City’s code. Currently, Mallard Island is zoned as an R-1 Single-Family Residential District.
“What is being requested by the Mallard Island subdivision is they would like a hybrid single-family residential district … an R-1A single-family district will prohibit short-term rentals and allow only year-round rentals where you cannot rent less than 12 months. It would protect single-family neighborhoods from not having transient rentals,” Smith said.
The commission voted last month to have staff draft an ordinance that would establish the R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City’s code.
On Tuesday, Smith returned before the commission with a draft ordinance stating the purpose of an R-1A Single-Family Residential 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.”
Smith said, “When I drafted the purpose I tried to differentiate it from the R-1 district, which is our standard single-family resident district that protects single-family residents whether they are short-term, long-term or permanent residents.”
The draft ordinance also states the permitted use is, “building or land in the R1-A single-family residential district shall be used for only the following purposes: detached year round single-family dwellings. Short–term rentals are prohibited within the R-1A district.”
“Times have changed in Ocean City,” Smith said. “We have seen single-family residential districts normally function for permanent residents or second homes, not rentals, but that is changing over time because of the growth of Ocean City.”
The draft ordinance also applies the definition of, “Dwelling, single-family year round residence. A building designed for or occupied exclusively by one family for a period of not less than 12-month period.”
Commission member Lauren Taylor questioned if the code’s standing definition of “single-family” should be referenced, which is no more than four unrelated persons.
“The definition of single-family has had a lot of attention placed on it but really is not the issue,” Smith said. “The issue is transient rental, whether it is four unrelated people or two families coming together, it is the transient nature that is disrupting these neighborhoods. It is how the neighborhoods are being affected by the turnover of people, whoever they are.”
The commission was in consensus the draft ordinance was worthy of coming before a public hearing when other details, such as enforcement and recourse, will be further discussed prior to making a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council for approval.
“This will be reviewed by the city solicitor, his office, and changes may need to be made and expanded upon, Assistant City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said. “Certain issues were raised tonight, some right and some not right, so it will have to be looked at. It’s a good start but it needs some work. It is just one step in a much longer process.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed R-1A Single Family Residential District within the next month. The commission will then send a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council. If approved by the Mayor and City Council, neighborhoods will have the opportunity to apply to be rezoned as an R-1A district.
Prior to the discussion coming to a close, Geoffrey Robbins, a resident of Teal Drive since 1979 and former chairman of the planning commission, brought up former covenants of Mallard Island that once prohibited rentals but due to their nature today would essentially be illegal.
“The issue of rentals has just come up in the past year or two. The community was never intended to be rented and that was in the covenants. The covenants had expired because there were things in the covenants that can’t be put in print anymore, and I don’t think anybody wanted to go through the expense of rewriting the code for our community. It has always been a R1 community, and never intended to be rented whether it is for four months or 12 months,” Robbins said.
Lisa Gorman, owner of the so-called problem property in Mallard Island that raised many concerns last summer, was in attendance and the mention of the conveyance sparked her interest.
During the meeting, Gorman’s property was referenced once again and was rented last weekend with eight vehicles parked out front. According to Smith, the renters were not asked to leave.
“The Realtor said they were related in fashion,” Smith said. “If it was more than four unrelated people, then they would have been in violation but that could not be determined … Central Reservations said it was rented to a family.”
According to Gorman, neither the city nor Central Reservations has made her aware of complaints over her property. Her six-bedroom home in Mallard Island with a pool in the backyard is rented out weekly during the summer season, and she was not made aware of neighborhood regulations prohibiting short-term rentals prior to buying the home as an investment property for rentals.
Gorman stated the only form of complaint she has received was an anonymous letter from a neighbor harassing in nature stating racial slurs regarding African-American renters in the home last summer. The handwritten letter was accompanied by a photo of the renters in the pool.
“If somebody would have just said, such as the listing agent, that this isn’t the kind of neighborhood for rentals but I guess they just wanted to make a sale,” she said.
If the R-1A district is approved and Mallard Island becomes an R-1A district, Gorman will be left with a six-bedroom home to either be leased for 12 months or sell.
“That is not going to work for me,” she said. “That was not my intent. My intent was an investment … I thought Ocean City was a rental town.”