Concerns Over Possible Athletic Complex Expansion Aired

SALISBURY – The ball is in Wicomico County’s field, as Salisbury awaits stipulations to be met prior to further consideration of a land donation that would permit the expansion of Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex at Naylor Mill Park.

Last October the Wicomico County Council considered the acceptance of a donation of property from the City of Salisbury, consisting of 34.94 acres located on the north side of Naylor Mill Rd., adjacent to the athletic complex for the purpose of expanding the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex (HPAC).

At that time, former Wicomico Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Gary Mackes presented Wicomico’s tourism book consisted of 35 amateur sports events that have generated an overall $43.1 million in economic activity. This is composed of 30,000 hotel room nights and close to 200,000 visitors. Compared to the previous year, Wicomico’s tourism initiative had grown by 10 percent.

Wicomico County utilizes HPAC as the hub for regional events held in the county. Some events are so large that they exceed the county’s field and lodging capacity. In fact, the summer World Series event used 21 fields and lodging demand had grown 50 percent in Ocean City.

The county is confident an expanded complex will bring at least 10 additional events and an increase in direct economic activity from $26.2 million to $32.2 million with an annual growth of 25 percent. By 2020, the county will benefit from additional growth of 15 percent, or $5 million, to an accumulative total of $11 million, or 40 percent when compared to the present.

Currently, the HPAC has four softball fields with three lighted, one lighted baseball field, four lighted soccer fields, two full-service concession stands with restroom facilities, a shaded playground area, plenty of spectator seating and free parking for 720 vehicles.

The expansion would add four baseball/softball fields with two being lighted and four more soccer fields as well as increase parking capacity. About $3.7 million has been dedicated to the expansion between county and state funding.

With the many concerns surrounding the project that has been on the table for the past year, Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton called for a public hearing to be held on July 29 to address concerns over the future of the Paleochannel aquifer, and the approximately 35 acres of forested land adjacent to the HPAC.

However, on July 13, the city released a press release stating, “Wicomico County has withdrawn its request that the city donate 35 acres of forested land adjacent to the HPAC on Naylor Mill Road. In light of this development, the public hearing…has been cancelled. The county has indicated that they are now considering other prospective parcels of land.”

Ireon said, “The importance of the Paleochannel, and the water it provides both city and county residents is an incredibly compelling reason to keep this land in its present form. We don’t have to worry though, for now Wicomico County is searching for an alternative place to expand recreational areas. That’s a good thing. … I applaud County Executive Culver on this decision to seek land elsewhere.”

In response, Wicomico County claimed a miscommunication in withdrawing its request for the donation of land.

“The mayor’s assertion that Wicomico County has withdrawn its request for the land donation associated with the Henry S. Parker complex expansion is not true. The county has not withdrawn its request,” the county’s press release stated.

With the project seemingly still up for discussion, citizens waited for their time to voice their concerns at the conclusion of Monday’s City Council meeting.

“There is a growing concern in the community that the trails at Naylor Mill are going to be turned into playing fields when there are a lot of other resources for that in town …  Salisbury doesn’t have a lot of trails for mountain biking, exploring with young children, running and just getting back in touch with nature,” Melissa Wilson said. “This is also where the water comes from for the city, which is a concern … the potential pollution that will contaminate city water.”

Trent Swanson listed many proven economic benefits that trails have on a community, such as increasing the value of nearby properties, increasing the spending at local businesses, and making a community more attractive to live.

“When considering where to live, home buyers consider walking and biking one of the most important features of a new community,” Swanson said. “Having lived in Salisbury, Delmar and now Fruitland, the lack of sidewalks is dangerous not only for myself but for my children, as more and more people are driving distracted by text messaging and talking on the phone. I need a place where I can feel safe to take my kids, family and friends where we can be out and not feel as concerned over being hit by a car.”

Gabriel Matyiko asked the City Council to see outside of the dollar signs.

“A lot of people come here because it is one of the least developed, wild and natural places surrounded by tons of metropolitan areas, and there is a lot of value in that. There is so much open land out there on the Eastern Shore but we don’t have places like Naylor Mill,” Matyiko said. “It’s an asset that unless you have been out there to enjoy it, it is hard to realize. It is a fantastic place. It is beautiful. When you’re out there it looks like you could be in a national park but you’re not, you’re in Salisbury.”

Matyiko pointed out that while USSSA Eastern World Series, which is one of the largest sports tournaments to take place in Wicomico County, has returned the contract does not go beyond a year.

“They could be here for one year, or two years but the next year they may not come, so that money that you’re banking on could be gone,” he said. “For the people that live here to enjoy that [Naylor Mill Park] now that is a sustainable, long-term economic benefit.”

Sarah Halcott has started the “Save the Naylor Mill Forest” petition online at www.change.org. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition advocating for “other locations” had received 359 signatures.

Council President Jake Day agreed recreation and ecotourism plays an important role in the city’s revitalization efforts, as well as in the importance of water quality, which is why the city has put in place several stipulations for the county to accomplish before consideration of the projects move any further.

“It is my belief if anything moves forward it would be a situation where the trails will be protected and the Paleochannel will be protected. I do not think we would be comfortable moving if those two stipulations are not done,” said Day.

Day recognized the economic impact over $20 million in revenue from the USSSA tournaments has on the city.

“With that being said, $20 million is actually a very small portion of the economic impact of tourism on this community. It is a big number but don’t let anybody tell you that is all of it. It is just a part of it,” he said. “We have also been told that these sports tournaments are a passing fad. I can’t speak to that but we recognize that question of whether this is a lasting economic contributor to our community.”

Day furthered that while the state has committed $1 million towards the project, he believes the past proves there is no rush.

“We have found in this community, such as with the skate park, that if the state is providing funding, and if the due diligence has not been done or the political will is not there to make a project happen that money might stay,” he said. “It stayed for us when due diligence was done and the political will did exist later down the road. I don’t think we are in as much of a rush as our friends at the county claim we are. Two and half years after the state committed money to the skate park, we still had it.”

Day concluded conversations with the county will be held publically moving forward.

Bus Driver Recruitment Efforts Called Successful

OCEAN CITY – This month the Transportation Commission reviewed several ongoing efforts in increasing the bus and tram services that have proven to be successful.

According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, in July there were 32,000 more passengers on the buses compared to last year, and there were 424 more deployments, which is an increase of 23.3 percent. In August, the increase in deployments increased 18.8 percent with a 5.5 percent increase in ridership.

“Our goal was 20 percent,” Commission Chair Mayor Rick Meehan reported to the City Council last week regarding deployments. “We are trending in the right direction.”

According to Budget Manager Jennie Knapp, as of July 26, the bus system has brought in about $1.67 million in revenue, which is about a 1.04-percent increase from last year.

In the beginning of the year, the Transportation Commission focused on increasing the number of bus drivers by this summer season as the town has struggled with filling driver seats in the past several years.

The commission went as far as lowering the age requirement to drive city buses and opening the opportunity to foreign students. In the months leading up to summer, the Town of Ocean City attended several job fairs collecting many applications.

The commission’s goal was to have 155 seasonal drivers this summer. In 2012, there were 138 bus drivers. In 2013, there were 137 bus drivers, and in 2014, there were 120 bus drivers.

According to Operations Manager Steve Bartlett, in June there were 150 seasonal bus drivers on payroll, which decreased to 142 in August. However, this time last year there were 108 seasonal drivers on payroll.

“Our recruitment efforts worked and it is making for a better transportation system,” Meehan said. “We will continue to do that through the winter season for next year.

With the White Marlin Open coming to a close earlier this month, the commission also reviewed the ridership numbers of the White Marlin Open shuttle that travels from the Roland E. Powell Convention Center to the weigh ins at Harbour Island on 14th St. This year ridership was down 19 percent. In the future, the commission plans on having a discussion with Jim Motsko, president of the White Marlin Open, and Special Events Director Frank Miller on potentially decreasing shuttle deployments.

Adkins furthered the sales of the Boardwalk tram advertising panels for the summer netted the town $67,000. The cost to outfit those panels came to approximately $70,000, leaving a small gap to cover as far as initial expenses. The advertising net revenue in Fiscal Year 2016 is estimated at $78,000.

Discussions over expanding the Boardwalk tram advertising effort began in March at which time eight of the town’s Boardwalk tram conductor cars were equipped with tram rooftop backlit displays for both local and national advertisements of Dippin Dots, Tanger Outlets, Quitline, Department of Health and Mental Health and Casino at Ocean Downs.

Adkins asked if the commission was interested in proceeding in outfitting six additional panels to complete the tram fleet because the town’s advertising firm for transportation, Direct Media, would like to start selling those panels for next season in September.

Currently 10 of the town’s 16 Boardwalk tram passenger cars have a backlit display installed. The cost to outfit a car is about $7,200 each. The commission agreed to move forward in fabricating the remaining panels.

Ocean City Criminal Incidents Down 5% Through July

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – The month of July continued the trend of an overall crime decrease in Ocean City, but the majority of calls for service increased across the board.

At this month’s Police Commission meeting, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro reported the month of July’s crime statistics.

According to the report, July’s total calls for service, including traffic stops, business checks and assistance to citizens, totaled 16,273, which is a 5.6-percent increase from July 2014 when there were 15,405 calls for service.
Out of that total, 12,184 were officer initiated, which is a 7.5-percent increase from July 2014, and 4,089 were citizen initiated, which is.5-percent increase from July 2014.

The total number of calls for service, excluding traffic stops, business checks and assisting citizens, totaled 10,476, which is a 9.2-percent increase from July 2014 when there were 9,590 calls for service. Out of the total, 6,588 were officer initiated, which is a 15.8-percent increase from July 2014, and 3,888 were citizen initiated, which is a .3-percent decrease from July 2014.
Out of the top 25 calls for service in July, the majority of the categories decreased starting with traffic stops decreasing to 3,046 calls for service in July of this year from 3,910 in July of last year; city ordinance violations decreased to 1,224 this year from 1,338 last year; disorderly conducts decreased to 741 this year from 769 last year; suspicious person or activity decreased to 326 this year from 490 last year; assist to OC EMS decreased to 322 this year from 367 last year; theft already occurred decreased to 219 this year from 243 last year; animal complaints decreased to 183 this year from to 364 last year; assist to motorists decreased to 153 this year from 209 last year; CDS violations decreased to 145 this year from 190 last year; noise complaint violations decreased to 117 this year from 134 last year; tow impound/violations decreased to 117 this year from 161 last year; civil dispute decreased to 100 this year from 125 last year; assist to the Fire Company decreased to 87 this year from 99 last year; assaults already occurred decreased to 84 this year from 101 last year; malicious destruction of property decreased to 73 this year from 85 last year; and public safety concerns decreased to 69 this year from 75 last year.

The categories that increased in the month of July start with assist to citizens increased to 984 calls for service this year from 629 last year; parking complaints increased to 835 this year from 245 last year; 911 hang up calls increased to 785 this year from 724 last year; alcohol violations increased to 411 this year from 285 last year; check on welfare increased to 345 this year from 323 last year; collisions increased to 343 this year from 333 last year; trespassing increased to 162 this year from 95 last year; domestic assault/dispute increased to 137 this year from 120 last year; and forgery of any kind increased to 116 this year from 106 last year.

There were 512 arrests made in July and 51 criminal citations issued. There were 63 drug arrests made and 128 drug citations issued. There were 76 DUI arrests made and 30 weapon arrests, according to OCPD data.

At the end of July, a weekly breakdown reflects a 4.9-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 July in 2014 and 2015; 15 forcible rapes as of the end of July this year compared to 24 as of the end of July last year; 10 robberies as of the end of July this year compared to 13 as of the end of July last year; 48 aggravated assaults as of the end of July this year compared to 37 as of the end of July last year; 117 burglaries as of the end of July this year compared to 200 as of the end of July last year; 585 larcenies as of the end of July this year compared to 590 as of the end of July last year; nine auto thefts as of the end of July this year and 16 as of the end of July last year; and one case of arson as of the end of July this year compared to none as of the end of July last year.

There were 465 common assaults by the end of July 2015 compared to 446 by the end of July 2014 and 44 minor sex offenses by the end of July 2015 compared to 34 by the end of July 2014, resulting in an overall total of 1,294 crimes at the end of July 2015 compared to 1,360 at the end of July 2014.

There were 16 incidents in July when a Controlled Electronic Weapon (CEW), also known as a Taser. However, out of those incidents only six times was a CEW deployed.

On Friday, July 3, an officer observed an intoxicated subject being removed from a bar for disorderly behavior. When the suspect was told to leave the property due to a trespass warning being issued, the suspect became belligerent and began to approach the officer in a hostile manner. The officer displayed his CEW, which had no impact on the suspect’s behavior. The officer had reason to believe that the suspect was about to assault him, so the officer deployed his CEW on the suspect, which gained full compliance, and there were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Sunday, July 5, an officer attempted to address an open container violation when the suspect attempted to flee. The officer grabbed the suspect’s arm, which is when the suspect turned around in an aggressive manner. The officer targeted the suspect with his CEW, but gained no compliance. The officer deployed his CEW into the suspect, which gained temporary compliance until the CEW cycle timed out. The suspect attempted to flee again, but the officer activated a second CEW cycle, which gained full compliance from the suspect, and there were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Saturday, July 18, an officer observed a subject smoking a marijuana cigarette. When the suspect saw the officer approaching him, the suspect immediately shoved the marijuana cigarette in his mouth in an attempt to swallow it. The officer with the assistance of another officer immediately began to struggle with the suspect, in order to prevent the suspect from swallowing the marijuana. The officer displayed his CEW, but the suspect continued to resist against both officers. The officer utilized a drive stun from his CEW on the suspect, but gained no compliance. A second drive stun was utilized, but the suspect continued to resist arrest. The officer issued a third drive stun, which ultimately gained compliance from the suspect.

On Saturday, July 18, an officer was on routine patrol and issued a suspect two citations for open container of alcohol and possession of marijuana. When the suspect was walking down the street, he began to shout profanities. When the officer went to place the suspect under arrest the suspect began to resist arrest. The officer targeted the suspect with her CEW, but the suspect continued to resist. The officer then deployed her CEW into the suspect’s back, which gained full compliance.

On Saturday, July 25, officers were on a routine patrol at a bar closed when they observed an intoxicated male subject fighting with bar security. Officers immediately intervened and escorted the suspect off the property. The suspect began to assault the officers, which resulted in the officers falling to the ground with the suspect during the struggle. During the struggle the suspect bit an officer on the thigh. The other officer then deployed a drive stun with his CEW to the suspect, but did not gain the suspect’s compliance. The officer then stepped back and deployed the CEW probes into the suspect’s back, which gained full compliance.

On Sunday, July 26, an officer observed another officer struggling with an assault suspect near the roadway. The officer rushed over to assist and ordered the suspect to surrender his hands to the primary officer, so he can be handcuffed but the suspect continued to actively resist arrest. The assisting officer then deployed his CEW, which gained full compliance from the suspect.

 

Concerns Lead Council To Freeze Motorized Rental Licenses

Two examples of hoverboards are pictured from the company Monorover. Photo courtesy of www.monorover.com

OCEAN CITY – With an increase of motorized rentals on the Boardwalk, city officials have decided to place a freeze on issuing such rental licenses for the time being until town regulations are examined.

The topic of hoverboard rentals on the Boardwalk was brought before the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening following the Police Commission’s discussion last week.

“It was brought to the Police Commission’s attention of hoverboards being rented on the Boardwalk. There is a lot of concern over the riders of this new device using them in a reckless manner and possibly imposing a safety issue from a pedestrian’s standpoint. We are going to discuss this further and come back and make some recommendations,” Commission Chair Councilman Doug Cymek said.

What is being referred to as a hoverboard is produced by multiple manufacturers. One of those manufacturers is Monorover, which describes the device as “a Segway without the bulk … features gyroscopic technology, the same as found in Segway. Two sensors (one under each foot pad) detect the micro-movements in your feet and ankles, and relay that information to the motors. Just point your toes down to go forward, and put your weight into your heels to go backwards.”

According to Cymek, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Lt. Mark Pacini spoke with the business renting the hoverboards. The renters are being told the hoverboards can operate on the Boardwalk with no time restrictions at a rate of $35 per hour.

The State of Maryland defines hoverboards the same as a Segway in being an Electronic Personal Assistive Mobility Device (EPAMD), which is having two non-tandem wheels, self-balancing, powered by an electric propulsion system, has a maximum speed capability of 15 mph, and is designed to transport one person.

The Town of Ocean City’s law regulates EPAMDs in the same category as bicycles and pushcarts, which can allowed on the Boardwalk from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m., and from the day after Labor Day to the start of Memorial Day weekend at any time except for during the times of Springfest and Sunfest.

The code furthers, “it shall be unlawful for any nongovernmental motor vehicle, motor-assisted vehicle, bicycle, pushcart, or EPAMDs to be operated on the Boardwalk at any time without permission of the Mayor and City Council or its designated agent except during the time set forth in the code.”

The Police Commission was in consensus the town needs to ensure that hoverboard users and rental businesses come into compliance with existing regulations. The commission said last week it would continue to monitor the use of these devices to determine if further measures are warranted to ensure public safety.

“We have concerns,” Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said this week before the Mayor and City Council, pointing out the rentals have now expanded to a motorized unicycle.

“With the amount of bicycles on the Boardwalk in all shapes and sizes, and it has gone from bikes to Segway’s to hoverboards to now unicycles, the list goes on and on,” the chief said. “By nature the hoverboard just doesn’t go back and forth or sideways so to speak, so that poses some problems just with the amount of traffic that is on the Boardwalk around this time of year. With that being said, bicycles are able to be ridden from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m., so if there was a narrow window similar to bikes for hoverboards that would be more permissible but we need to be cautious in having them out there at any given time.”

According to Mayor Rick Meehan, since the Police Commission’s discussion last week, it has been discovered the businesses on the Boardwalk renting out the hoverboards are operating without the appropriate license, and they have been asked to cease renting the devices.

“With that in mind … and now there is a proliferation of unicycles … I would like the council to consider putting a moratorium on rental licenses for the hoverboards, and I would also like the Police Commission to look at all motorized vehicles/apparatuses this fall and come back with a recommendation to the council,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

Knight made a motion to place a moratorium on issuing rental licenses for all motorized vehicles on the Boardwalk, and the council voted unanimously to approve.

Street Performers Call New System ‘Badly Broken’; City Making Some Immediate Adjustments

OCEAN CITY – As the summer winds down, a list of what is not working for performers on the Boardwalk was voiced before the Mayor and City Council with officials assuring their concerns will be reviewed for possible change.

An ordinance on second reading to update language within the City Code regarding street performers came before the council on Monday evening.

On first reading, City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained the amendment is simply a “housekeeping measure” in updating the titles of city staff who have the power to issue citations, such as removing “cadets” and replacing it with “qualified police officers and employees authorized by the chief of police.”

At that time Mayor Rick Meehan took the opportunity to share what he had witnessed in observing the street performers the night before on the Boardwalk.

“It was amazing. They were all crowded with big crowds around them and they were all very successfully entertaining the public,” the mayor said.

A group of street performers, who were seen in front of City Hall protesting a few weeks ago, took exception to the mayor’s comments and made their presence known in the council chambers on Monday evening as the ordinance was scheduled for second reading, which was approved with an unanimous vote.

Performers came forward one-by-one voicing their issues with the regulations put in place this summer.

In mid-June, the council passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street. Performers are to sign-up with City Clerk Diana Chavis one week in advance on a Monday morning to be designated a space Monday through Friday, and on a Friday morning to be designated a space Friday through Sunday.

In most cases, there are two designated spaces per street end from the Inlet to 9th Street ranging from 10 feet by 10 feet, 5 feet by 10 feet and 5 feet by 5 feet. From 10th to 27th streets, performers are free to set up on any street end without signing up.

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; 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.

Boardwalk performer Ahlee Dawson voiced her opinion against not being able to share designated spaces that are not being used.

“These restrictions designate one spot to one performer for an entire week. I want to know how you can justify that,” Dawson asked. “These spots are left open just as much if not more than they are being used … if there is no one using a spot, then it is not a big deal if another performer comes in and uses it.”

Dawson, whose performance is strenuous atop an Indo Board, performs for a few hours at a time. She suggested a “priority sign-up” that would give the performer who signed up for a designated space jurisdiction over that location but if the space is not in use there would be protocol for another performer to fill in.

“For me to sign up at City Hall is unfair to the rest of the performers out here that want to use that spot during the day. It is a problem for me morally because I don’t want to take that spot away from them and I can’t share it with them, even though they are doing it anyway. Just so you know…,” she said.

Musician Wayne Jordan asserted the council’s intention to make street performers miserable is successful.

According to Jordan, performers are camping outside of City Hall the night prior to sign-up days to get a space.

“It is totally out of control … there are people paying others to hold place in line, there are people putting together different systems to hold a space or find a way to jockey their way in … they are spending most of their time trying to get a space, then they are actually performing. It is has put a ridiculous burden on these people,” he said.

Jordan pointed out some of the designated spaces, such as on Talbot Street, have been placed behind posts obstructing the view of the performers.

“I am hoping that some of you realize this system is very badly broken and needs to be attended to,” he said.

Magician/Comedian Joe Smith added the regulation of not being allowed to leave belongings unattended longer than 15 minutes is unsustainable, especially when it comes to standing in line to use the bathroom.

“In my mind, if I am coming out to express myself freely, then why do I have to register? That whole thing belays freedom of expression in my mind,” he said.

Face painter Jessica Brown, whose act has been eliminated all together by the regulations due to the abundance of henna tattoos on the Boardwalk, argued while henna ink is a health hazard she uses top-of-the-line, hypo-allergenic paints.

“Whoever told the media that we are all okay with this was a punch to the gut, and such a betrayal because obviously we are all standing in solidarity to tell you we are not okay with our rights being taken away,” she said. “This was a plan for you to eliminate performers … I have never had a problem and now I haven’t been able to do anything this year. I have had to get three jobs to compensate, and I am broken because I am not doing what I love anymore.”

Musician Alex Young disagreed with being confined to small boxes in most locations.

“The only thing missing is jail bars. While you can fit a performer, there is no room to express yourself,” he said. “I understand you are trying to create some order, and I realize two years ago it was a circus on the Boardwalk but this is not the right way to go about it … the mayor mentioned that we are thriving. Well we are not going to stand out there and throw a temper tantrum, we are going to try to perform but how are we thriving when we have to camp out fighting over spots in front of City Hall.”

According to painter/caricature artist Michael Moeller, he was threatened with a citation for sitting under an umbrella over five feet tall to shield himself from the sun.

“So now I have less rights than every beach goer who can bring an umbrella out to shield themselves from the sun, and I am sleeping in front of City Hall because I was accosted by police that I wasn’t allowed to sleep in my car where I wanted to be in air conditioning because it was a hot night,” he said. “We are a minority and as you can see today we are a very vocal and passionate one, and I would like to thank you for making me feel like a minority for the first time in my life. Thank you for educating me. I have never felt such pain and suffering laid on me by my government.”

According to Meehan, Chavis is taking notes of the performers’ concerns that will be reviewed by the council following the summer season. However, changes have been made in the interim to help relieve some of the problems, such as Moeller has been given permission to use an umbrella, patrol officers are being asked to use discretion with the 15-minute rule and designated spaces have been allowed to be shared in certain circumstances.

Going down the list, Meehan acknowledged some of the regulations have caused unintended circumstances and it would make sense to change a few, such as the height restriction, the 15-minute time limit in leaving belongings unattended, size and placement of some locations and even the use of face paint.

“It was commented that we did this to make your lives miserable. Well that is ridiculous. We spent hours upon hours working with a committee, attorneys and listening to all the street performers in trying to put an ordinance together that worked,” the mayor said. “Nothing was meant to cause problems for the street performers. They [regulations] were meant to try to make it better up there for everybody. We have heard what you have had to say, and we are almost at the end of the season. At that time allow us to take another look at this to see where we can make changes to help everybody up there.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed, and stated he looks forward to discussing the issues.

“I listened intently tonight and I heard a lot about how things are broken but nothing about how to fix it. That is the other side to the issue,’ Dare said. “I would like to hear more constructive criticism moving forward, so that we have options that might work for them that might also work for us that we haven’t already considered.”

Council Supports Fish In OC With $10K For Marketing Effort

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City will support the Fish in OC endeavor for another year with officials believing it has gained momentum in attracting visitors.

Last week Scott Lenox of Fish in OC presented an update to the Tourism Commission of the marketing initiative’s success in the past year.

“I would like to thank all of you last year for the favorable recommendation to the council. It was approved, and we got things rolling … it has taken off better than ever expected,” Lenox said.

In November 2014, the Mayor and Council voted unanimously to approve the Tourism Commission’s favorable recommendation to support Fish in OC with $10,000 as well as with the town’s trade show equipment.

Lenox presented Fish in OC as a co-op marketing initiative for fishing in Ocean City. Lenox had created a Fish In OC trade show booth and booked six outdoor trade shows scattered through New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania where he marketed Ocean City as a fishing destination.

Lenox and D3Corp created a website, www.fishinoc.com and a trip planner that offers different boats in Ocean City, accommodations, things to do and more.

As part of the town’s agreement with Lenox, Ocean City’s Vacation Guide was distributed at the trade shows along with the Fish in OC magazine, as well as the display of Ocean City tourism videos at the trade shows, the Ocean City logo displayed on the front page of the Fish in OC magazine with a full page advertisement on the back.

Lenox attended six trade shows earlier this year and distributed over 2,000 Ocean City Vacation Guides as well as has produced 20,000-plus Fish in OC magazines with 4,000 distributed at the trade shows, reaching an audience of over 300,000 people.

The other 16,000-plus magazines have been distributed locally all year long in high traffic areas, such as Walmart, Wawa, Visitors Centers, local hotels and restaurants. The Fish in OC website, which is linked to the town’s website www.ococean.com, is updated daily as well as weekly email blasts are sent to thousands in the Fish in OC’s database designed to attract interest to OC and profile their website advertisers.

This year Lenox will attend six trade shows starting with the Garden State Outdoor Sports Show in January, Baltimore Boat Show in January, Great American Outdoor Show in February, Greater Philadelphia Outdoor Sport Show in February, World Fishing & Outdoor Exhibition in March and Saltwater Fishing Expo in March.

“It is really working … there is no stopping it now. I think it is going to be a fixture in the fishing community,” Lenox said.

Tourism Director Donna Abbott asked the commission if the town would be interested in supporting Fish in OC in its second year with a $10,000 sponsorship and the trade show equipment. The commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and City Council to approve.

On Monday evening, Commission Chair and Councilwoman Mary Knight reported the update to the Mayor and City Council. Councilman Matt James made a motion to use $10,000 out of the advertising budget to support Fish in OC in its second year, and the council voted unanimously to approve.

Ocean City Ups Electrical Permit Minimum By 117%; Change A Result Of Building Fee Review

OCEAN CITY – Following further analysis of the permit process and man-hours involved with mechanical and electrical permits, the Mayor and City Council voted to raise the fee to a minimum of $65.

During the fiscal year 2016 budget discussion, the Mayor and City Council requested a review of the permit fee structure in the Building Department. Currently, the stand alone permit fee for electrical and mechanical permits is $30.

In July, Chief Building Official Kevin Brown came before the Mayor and City Council requesting an increase in permit fees. At that time, he explained based on administrative costs and staff time needed to process and issue permits the fee should be increased to a minimum of $45 if not more.

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.

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

Councilman Wayne Hartman 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 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, it was suggested 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.

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.

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.

After further review, Brown returned to the Mayor and City Council last week and recommended mechanical and electrical permit fees be raised to a minimum of $65.

“Many electrocution deaths throughout the country are caused by faulty wiring, poor designs or poorly maintained electrical wiring. The Town of Ocean City has a responsibility to ensure public safety when it comes to electrical and mechanical work performed on both new and existing buildings,” Brown said. “This office receives many complaints throughout the year from many residents and non-residents and contractors. By requiring electrical and mechanical permits, we will be able not to only track activity through inspections and for compliance; we can also provide information when requested to owners, and third-party inspection agencies, Worcester County and Worcester County Health Department.”

Brown furthered all electrical installations are inspected to ensure the installation meets the National Electric Code standards.

“This department of building and inspection safety monitors all electric and mechanical activity from the beginning of the application process to beyond the final inspection by a third-party agency. We can avoid many problems with open communication between staff, contractors and owners,” he said. “As I had mentioned in a previous work session, it would help to offset the cost associated with issuing permits. The costs of these types of permits should not have additional burden to the general taxpayer. It is my recommendation to raise the electrical and mechanical fees based on assessment of work performed during the permit process and analysis of time associated with this process.”

Council Secretary Mark Knight made a motion to raise the minimum fee to $65.

“I didn’t agree with it before, and now it is only getting worse,” Hartman said. “Basically any outside air conditioning unit installed since 1972 should be on a FEMA stand, and seeing how many are not it just solidifies my comments at the last meeting about the lack of permits for replacement of heating and air conditioning units because they are most likely done without a permit. Once again, I am going to suggest a simple replacement of a heating and air conditioning system can be done without a permit. Have a map and the elevation required, and it can easily be done without a permit as most of them are already being done already.”

City Engineer Terry McGean interjected the town’s requirement to receive a mechanical permit all began as of result of deaths in Ocean City a number of years ago caused by the replacement of a heating unit not being connected properly causing a carbon monoxide leak.

“Electrical is also very serious as well,” Councilman Doug Cymek said.  “We had a death a few years back at a Boardwalk condominium where they were servicing a light pole that wasn’t properly grounded and it took someone’s life. I am supportive of this as well. I would like to see the penalties for not getting a permit increased to encourage people to do the right thing.”

The City Council voted 6-1 with Hartman opposed to increase the mechanical and electrical permit fees to a minimum of $65 from $30, representing a 117-percent increase.

Surge In New Motorized Devices On Boardwalk Leads Council To Freeze Specific Rental Licenses

Photo courtesy of www.monorover.com

OCEAN CITY – With an increase of motorized rentals on the Boardwalk, city officials have decided to place a freeze on issuing such rental licenses for the time being until town regulations are examined.

The topic of hoverboard rentals on the Boardwalk was brought before the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening following the Police Commission’s discussion last week.

“It was brought to the Police Commission’s attention of hoverboards being rented on the Boardwalk. There is a lot of concern over the riders of this new device using them in a reckless manner and possibly imposing a safety issue from a pedestrian’s standpoint. We are going to discuss this further and come back and make some recommendations,” Commission Chair Councilman Doug Cymek said.

What is being referred to as a hoverboard is produced by multiple manufacturers. One of those manufacturers is Monorover, which describes the device as “a Segway without the bulk … features gyroscopic technology, the same as found in Segway. Two sensors (one under each foot pad) detect the micro-movements in your feet and ankles, and relay that information to the motors. Just point your toes down to go forward, and put your weight into your heels to go backwards. The sensors are incredibly active, and within minutes of roving, it begins to feel intuitive.”

According to Cymek, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Lt. Mark Pacini spoke with the business renting the hoverboards. The renters are being told the hoverboards can operate on the Boardwalk with no time restrictions at a rate of $35 per hour.

The State of Maryland defines hoverboards the same as a Segway in being an Electronic Personal Assistive Mobility Device (EPAMD), which is having two non-tandem wheels, self-balancing, powered by an electric propulsion system, has a maximum speed capability of 15 mph, and is designed to transport one person.

The Town of Ocean City’s law regulates EPAMDs in the same category as bicycles and pushcarts, which can allowed on the Boardwalk from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m., and from the day after Labor Day to the start of Memorial Day weekend at any time except for during the times of Springfest and Sunfest.

The code furthers, “it shall be unlawful for any nongovernmental motor vehicle, motor-assisted vehicle, bicycle, pushcart, or EPAMDs to be operated on the Boardwalk at any time without permission of the Mayor and City Council or its designated agent except during the time set forth in the code.”

The Police Commission was in consensus the town needs to ensure that hoverboard users and rental businesses come into compliance with existing regulations. The commission said last week it would continue to monitor the use of these devices to determine if further measures are warranted to ensure public safety.

“We have concerns,” Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said this week before the Mayor and City Council, pointing out the rentals have now expanded to a motorized unicycle.

“With the amount of bicycles on the Boardwalk in all shapes and sizes, and it has gone from bikes to Segway’s to hoverboards to now unicycles, the list goes on and on,” the chief said. “By nature the hoverboard just doesn’t go back and forth or sideways so to speak, so that poses some problems just with the amount of traffic that is on the Boardwalk around this time of year. With that being said, bicycles are able to be ridden from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m., so if there was a narrow window similar to bikes for hoverboards that would be more permissible but we need to be cautious in having them out there at any given time.”

According to Mayor Rick Meehan, since the Police Commission’s discussion last week, it has been discovered the businesses on the Boardwalk renting out the hoverboards are operating without the appropriate license, and they have been asked to cease renting the devices.

“With that in mind … and now there is a proliferation of unicycles … I would like the council to consider putting a moratorium on rental licenses for the hoverboards, and I would also like the Police Commission to look at all motorized vehicles/apparatuses this fall and come back with a recommendation to the council,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

Knight made a motion to place a moratorium on the town issuing rental licenses for all motorized vehicles on the Boardwalk, and the council voted unanimously to approve.

 

Street Performers Call New System ‘Badly Broken’; Council Seeks Constructive Approach To Solutions

Street performers are shown protesting outside of City Hall last month. Photo by Joanne Shriner

OCEAN CITY – As the summer winds down, a list of what is not working for performers on the Boardwalk was voiced before the Mayor and City Council with officials assuring their concerns will be reviewed for possible change.

An ordinance on second reading to update language within the City Code regarding street performers came before the council on Monday evening.

On first reading, City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained the amendment is simply a “housekeeping measure” in updating the titles of city staff who have the power to issue citations, such as removing “cadets” and replacing it with “qualified police officers and employees authorized by the chief of police.”

At that time Mayor Rick Meehan took the opportunity to share what he had witnessed in observing the street performers the night before on the Boardwalk.

“It was amazing. They were all crowded with big crowds around them and they were all very successfully entertaining the public,” the mayor said.

A group of street performers, who were seen in front of City Hall protesting a few weeks ago, took exception to the mayor’s comments and made their presence known in the council chambers on Monday evening as the ordinance was scheduled for second reading, which was approved with an unanimous vote.

Performers came forward one-by-one voicing their issues with the regulations put in place this summer.

In mid-June, the council passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street. Performers are to sign-up with City Clerk Diana Chavis one week in advance on a Monday morning to be designated a space Monday through Friday, and on a Friday morning to be designated a space Friday through Sunday.

In most cases, there are two designated spaces per street end from the Inlet to 9th Street ranging from 10 feet by 10 feet, 5 feet by 10 feet and 5 feet by 5 feet. From 10th to 27th streets, performers are free to set up on any street end without signing up.

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; 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.

Boardwalk performer Ahlee Dawson voiced her opinion against not being able to share designated spaces that are not being used.

“These restrictions designate one spot to one performer for an entire week. I want to know how you can justify that,” Dawson asked. “These spots are left open just as much if not more than they are being used … if there is no one using a spot, then it is not a big deal if another performer comes in and uses it.”

Dawson, whose performance is strenuous atop an Indo Board, performs for a few hours at a time. She suggested a “priority sign-up” that would give the performer who signed up for a designated space jurisdiction over that location but if the space is not in use there would be protocol for another performer to fill in.

“For me to sign up at City Hall is unfair to the rest of the performers out here that want to use that spot during the day. It is a problem for me morally because I don’t want to take that spot away from them and I can’t share it with them, even though they are doing it anyway. Just so you know…,” she said.

Musician Wayne Jordan asserted the council’s intention to make street performers miserable is successful.

According to Jordan, performers are camping outside of City Hall the night prior to sign-up days to get a space.

“It is totally out of control … there are people paying others to hold place in line, there are people putting together different systems to hold a space or find a way to jockey their way in … they are spending most of their time trying to get a space, then they are actually performing. It is has put a ridiculous burden on these people,” he said.

Jordan pointed out some of the designated spaces, such as on Talbot Street, have been placed behind posts obstructing the view of the performers.

“I am hoping that some of you realize this system is very badly broken and needs to be attended to,” he said.

Magician/Comedian Joe Smith added the regulation of not being allowed to leave belongings unattended longer than 15 minutes is unsustainable, especially when it comes to standing in line to use the bathroom.

“In my mind, if I am coming out to express myself freely, then why do I have to register? That whole thing belays freedom of expression in my mind,” he said.

Face painter Jessica Brown, whose act has been eliminated all together by the regulations due to the abundance of henna tattoos on the Boardwalk, argued while henna ink is a health hazard she uses top-of-the-line, hypo-allergenic paints.

“Whoever told the media that we are all okay with this was a punch to the gut, and such a betrayal because obviously we are all standing in solidarity to tell you we are not okay with our rights being taken away,” she said. “This was a plan for you to eliminate performers … I have never had a problem and now I haven’t been able to do anything this year. I have had to get three jobs to compensate, and I am broken because I am not doing what I love anymore.”

Musician Alex Young disagreed with being confined to small boxes in most locations.

“The only thing missing is jail bars. While you can fit a performer, there is no room to express yourself,” he said. “I understand you are trying to create some order, and I realize two years ago it was a circus on the Boardwalk but this is not the right way to go about it … the mayor mentioned that we are thriving. Well we are not going to stand out there and throw a temper tantrum, we are going to try to perform but how are we thriving when we have to camp out fighting over spots in front of City Hall.”

According to painter/caricature artist Michael Moeller, he was threatened with a citation for sitting under an umbrella over 5 feet tall to shield himself from the sun.

“So now I have less rights than every beach goer who can bring an umbrella out to shield themselves from the sun, and I am sleeping in front of City Hall because I was accosted by police that I wasn’t allowed to sleep in my car where I wanted to be in air conditioning because it was a hot night,” he said. “We are a minority and as you can see today we are a very vocal and passionate one, and I would like to thank you for making me feel like a minority for the first time in my life. Thank you for educating me. I have never felt such pain and suffering laid on me by my government.”

According to Meehan, Chavis is taking notes of the performers’ concerns that will be reviewed by the council following the summer season. However, changes have been made in the interim to help relieve some of the problems, such as Moeller has been given permission to use an umbrella, and designated spaces have been allowed to be shared in certain circumstances.

Going down the list, Meehan acknowledged some of the regulations have caused unintended circumstances and it would make sense to change a few, such as the height restriction, the 15-minute time limit in leaving belongings unattended, size and placement of some locations and even the use of face paint.

“It was commented that we did this to make your lives miserable. Well that is ridiculous. We spent hours upon hours working with a committee, attorneys and listening to all the street performers in trying to put an ordinance together that worked,” the mayor said. “Nothing was meant to cause problems for the street performers. They [regulations] were meant to try to make it better up there for everybody. We have heard what you have had to say, and we are almost at the end of the season. At that time allow us to take another look at this to see where we can make changes to help everybody up there.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed, and stated he looks forward to discussing the issues.

“I listened intently tonight and I heard a lot about how things are broken but nothing about how to fix it. That is the other side to the issue,’ Dare said. “I would like to hear more constructive criticism moving forward, so that we have options that might work for them that might also work for us that we haven’t already considered.”

 

Proposed Law Changes Aimed At OC Vehicle Events; Public Nuisance Issues Targeted

OCEAN CITY – For the last couple of years, city officials have promised action to ease concerns over vehicular events in Ocean City, and a first step is the Police Commission proposing recommended changes to city laws.

The most recent event to worry residents was Cruisin, which hit Ocean City in May with 3,400 classic cars officially registered for the event and thousands more unaffiliated with it. While the officially registered participants appeared to be well behaved for the most part and attended the event’s official activities at the Inlet and Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the uninvited groups raced up and down Coastal Highway and other streets, dumped trash in parking lots and left a considerable amount of rubber on the roads.

Cruisin has become one of the biggest weekends of the year in Ocean City, according to promoter and organizer Bob Rothermel and many business owners. While local residents bristled at the steady roar of the hot rod engines and the consequences of the large convergence, special events drive the economy in Ocean City, especially in the shoulder seasons. Balancing them with the quality of life has always been a challenge.

Immediately following last year and this year’s events complaints were heard loud from residents demanding changes. The same was reported after last fall’s VW/Audi event, which will return the first weekend of October.

The Police Commission on Monday morning reviewed proposed ordinance changes that would add additional “tools to the toolbox” when it comes to spectators and the damage they cause.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres looked to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and provided copies of laws that relate to the issues Ocean City has been experiencing.

The first proposed change would be to a chapter of Ocean City’s code titled “Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions.”

“It will be a violation for any business license holder to permit, enable or allow the consumption of or possession in an open container of alcoholic beverage in the parking areas, and the commission or omission of the license holder that allows the unlawful activity constitutes the act of maintaining or contributing to a public nuisance, and the license shall be subject to business license revocation,” the proposed ordinance states. “The employment of security personnel with the posting of signage, or proof of providing written or oral warning of the prohibition to the guests prior to summoning law enforcement, shall create a presumption of compliance with the law by the business license holder.”

Regarding municipal sponsored events, the council can allow possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages at municipal sponsored events and municipal permitted special events on public property and municipal parking lots subject to restrictions and conditions the Mayor and City Council impose.

The commission was in consensus to add here, “…and with approval of a permit of the Board of License Commissioners.”

If in violation, the ordinance calls for a penalty of a municipal infraction. However, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Capt. Kevin Kirstein recommended a municipal misdemeanor. He explained an infraction calls for the issuance of a ticket while a misdemeanor allows for a citation and hearing and/or arrest.

“I support it. This is to address a problem that has been a growing concern, and has been causing issues with our police department as far as enforcement regarding overflow into the streets and right-of-ways during specific events,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “The intent of this is also to notify those who have private parking lots that is required parking that those lots are for that specific purpose and not for the consumption of alcohol or for a party to be set up.”

The next change would be made to an article of same chapter in regards to destruction of required landscaping and parking.

Destructive use is defined as “the congregation, loitering or lingering of persons, or the placement of tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects on or in a required landscaped area in disturbance or damage of the plants or area.”

Public nuisance use of a parking area is defined as “the creation or maintenance of impromptu, unmanaged outdoor events or parties, to set up, place or use tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects from which to sell, dispense, cook, prepare, serve, distribute or consume any food or beverage, object or product; or to broadcast amplified music from vehicles or other devices; or the use of tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects for congregational purposes that prevent the use of the parking area for its intended purpose.”

The ordinance states security resources must be hired to prevent destruction to landscaped areas, as well as prevent the public nuisance of required parking areas. They would be in violation if they are found encouraging or allowing destructive use of required landscaping, as well as if any person engages in the destructive use of required landscaping.

“However, that such events that are specifically permitted through legislative or administrative action, or sponsored by the business license holder, or other entity or person owning or maintaining a required landscape area or parking area in compliance with regulations governing such outdoor events are not included,” the ordinance includes.

Kirstein recommended a waiver be granted to the business license holder, person or entity, as well as those found in violation be penalized with a municipal misdemeanor.

“It sounds like they can waive themselves. If they want a waiver, they should have to come to the Mayor and City Council, and not just decide to use their landscaped area because it is their event,” he said.

The destruction of landscaping has been an issue for some time, the mayor said.

“It is a nuisance that there are situations where landscaping is being destroyed, and the property owner is certainly not guilty when it is somebody that just decided to sit there,” he said. “Code requires landscaping, and property owners are responsible for maintaining that landscaping. In order to receive an occupancy permit, you have to have that landscaping and keep it maintained, and we see a lot of cases where it has been damaged or destroyed. It needs to be addressed as it has caused problems for our department and with the general public.”

The final ordinance change in regards to vehicular events would change the chapter titled, “Traffic and Vehicles.”

The amendment would define a trailer as, “A vehicle that has no motive power, is designed to carry people or property and be towed by a motor vehicle, and is constructed so that no part of its weight rests on the towing vehicle.”

The ordinance would prohibit any oversized vehicle or trailer to be parked on any municipal parking lot, public street, alley or any public way within the corporate limits of Ocean City from May 1 through Oct. 31., except for trailers used for transporting construction materials and equipment for an active site.

“The purpose of this is because our streets during certain events become overcrowded with trailers causing traffic hazards, especially along Baltimore Ave. Originally when these events started there were a lot less trailers but now they are all over the streets including residential areas and it has caused concern,” Meehan said.

The commission was in consensus to move the proposed ordinance changes forward to the full council for approval with the recommended changes.