About Joanne Shriner

Staff Writer

Major Hotel Addition Planned For Ocean City; 15-Story Structure Would Be Connected To Existing Quality Inn

Rendering by Becker Morgan

OCEAN CITY – A new oceanfront 15-story hotel proposed for Ocean City received formal site plan approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission last week.

Last Tuesday evening the Planning and Zoning Commission held an informal discussion regarding the Planned Overlay District to include a 15-story hotel, which will have 101 units. The site of the proposed hotel in the Planned Overlay District is on the south side of 34th Street on the ocean.

The design of the new hotel was presented by Jack Mumford of Becker Morgan Group. The applicant is OC Hotel Holdings, LLC.

Currently, the Quality Inn & Suites Beach Front stands on the north side of 33rd Street. The new hotel will be built on a vacant lot to the north of the Quality Inn and as proposed will be connected to the Quality Inn to share amenities.

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained existing projects that are similar to what is being proposed are the Hilton located on 32nd Street and the ocean, the Holiday Inn on 17th Street and the ocean and the Gateway Grand on 48th Street and the ocean, which were also designed by Becker Morgan Group.

According to Ocean City Code, construction in the Planned Overlay District must meet a minimum of 90,000 square feet of lot area located in the permitted zoning district.

“There is something unique about it that it offers something better than the ‘factory version’ that would have more land coverage, so you are getting more open space,” Smith said.

At first, a 12-story building was designed to go along with Ocean City Code’s “height-by-right” regulation, Mumford explained, but the hotel ended up with only a few units facing the ocean while most faced the street on the north side, elevated parking and an elevated pool.

“We decided to come back with a smaller foot print with 15 stories rather than 12, so it is about 30 feet taller than what would be allowed with height-by-right but we were able to get all of the units oceanfront,” Mumford said. “We were also able to keep a vast majority of the site open, so we have more landscaping and light and air for the neighborhood.”

Mumford added the plan also includes more than what will be required for parking.

“The new hotel will be attached to the existing Quality Inn. It may function as two different brands with a shared front desk, but basically the amenities of the existing Quality Inn will be shared,” Mumford said. “We are adding a new pool on the oceanfront, and we enlarged the trash collection area but they will still work together.”

Mumford furthered, as done with the Hilton, Holiday Inn and Gateway Grand they are stepping the building, so it absorbs its own shadow as it gets taller. According to Ocean City Code, a shadow study was conducted on Sept. 7 at 10 a.m.

“We managed the shadows so there is no shadows cast across the street on neighbors or onto the beach past the dune line,” Mumford said.

In the near future, a formal site plan will come before the commission for review, attorney Joe Moore stated, who is representing the applicant.

“It really strikes you as a beautiful building,” he said.

Commission member Palmer Gillis and Commission Chair Pam Buckley both agreed.

“It is very functional with great landscaping,” Commission member Lauren Taylor said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously that as a result of a preliminary discussion the proposed site plan appears to be satisfactory. A formal site plan review will come before the commission in the future for a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council for approval.

More Ocean City Canals Added To Off-Season Dredging Effort

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OCEAN CITY – Three more canals were added to the to-do list this week as Ocean City moves forward with the much anticipated and high-priority canal dredging project.

City Engineer Terry McGean came before the Mayor and City Council on Wednesday afternoon to amend the existing dredging contract with Hi-Tide Marine to include dredging canals at 25th street and on the east and west sides of Tern Dr., covering 5,214 cubic yards at the price of $47 per cubic yard, totaling $245,058.

McGean explained in October of 2013 the council made its first move on the canal dredging project. The council appropriated $500,000 from the city’s fund balance and awarded Hi-Tide Marine the bid to conduct the first phase of canal dredging in February.

“By the time we were able to get all the procurement documents together and get a contract awarded, we basically had about 15 days before the federal government was going to shut us down for restrictions for flounder. They won’t let us dredge basically after April 1, so we weren’t able to get the dredging started until this fall,’ McGean said.

The first phase of canal dredging currently underway includes Canal #19, which is at Trimpers and Hitchens avenues; Canal #29, which is 48th Street surrounded by the Wight Bay Condominium; and Canal #21, which is on the south side of 52nd Street.

The contract also includes four large storm drain outfalls where the sediment from those outfalls is plugging the canals. The four outfalls are located on Seaweed Lane, Tunnel Ave., Sinepuxent Ave. and Jamaica Ave.

“The first three canals were the shallowest canals, so they were our top priority, and the outfalls we received historic complaints about,” McGean said.

McGean furthered the council approved $250,000 in the current Fiscal Year 2015 budget for additional dredging, and Hi-Tide Marine has agreed to hold its bid unit price to dredge additional canals this season.

“I looked at out canal priority list … and tried to find some canals that would approach that total and were relatively in the same general area as where Hi-Tide is working now. I identified three canals,” he said.

The first canal is located at 25 1/2 Street where the old Misty Harbor Motel was once located. The property is currently vacant and the bulkhead was recently improved.

The second canal is between Tern and Plover drives, and third canal is between Tern Dr. and the back side of Jolly Roger Amusement Park.

According to McGean, the bulkhead between Tern and Plover is generally in good condition but not so much behind Jolly Roger that has moved up in priority between the effects of the Robin Drive Shore Line Project and Hurricane Sandy.

“Is it ready to collapse? No, they have done some structural repairs. However, it is leaking. This is a tough one because on other canals when we have failing bulkheads on both sides you would have an incentive for those people because they are docking their boats. At Jolly Roger. no one is docking boats in that canal, and it is a very long stretch of bulkhead we are talking about,” McGean said. “If we say we are not going to dredge this canal until the bulkhead is repaired or replaced, it will be quite some time because it is not at the point where we would condemn it. It is in that grey area, and in this case you would be penalizing the people on the east side of Tern for something they necessarily don’t have a lot of control over.”

Councilman Doug Cymek suggested McGean speak with the Jolly Roger property owner who could be amenable to interim bulkhead repairs.

“Knowing the owner, I would say, yes, and I would be happy to go down there and try to work something out,” McGean said.

Mayor Rick Meehan recalled when canal dredging discussions arrived it was noted the canals without decent bulkheads should not be prioritized.

“We want to make sure when we dredge the canals it would be effective, and for it to be effective as it can possibly be that would be the right thing to do,” he said.

Councilman Wayne Hartman asked where the town stands with the canal dredging schedule.

McGean responded with the first phase just now being conducted and lack of funding the town is behind schedule.

“It will take seven years to get all of the high-priority canals done. I have permitted the first three years’ worth of canals. We would like to be able to spend $500,000 to $600,000 per year to reach that goal. The first year we took $500,000 out of fund balance. This current year we appropriated $250,000, so we are behind this year,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the existing canal contract to include dredging canals at 25th Street and on the east and west sides of Tern Dr.

“I have already had a gentleman come up to me to thank us for finally beginning the dredging process. He understood it had been a long time coming but he was happy that it had begun … we can now see the light at the end of the canal as things are moving forward,” the mayor said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Ocean City Canals Added To Off-Season Dredging Effort

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OCEAN CITY – Three more canals were added to the to-do list this week as Ocean City moves forward with the much anticipated and high-priority canal dredging project.

City Engineer Terry McGean came before the Mayor and City Council on Wednesday afternoon to amend the existing dredging contract with Hi-Tide Marine to include dredging canals at 25th street and on the east and west sides of Tern Dr., covering 5,214 cubic yards at the price of $47 per cubic yard, totaling $245,058.

McGean explained in October of 2013 the council made its first move on the canal dredging project. The council appropriated $500,000 from the city’s fund balance and awarded Hi-Tide Marine the bid to conduct the first phase of canal dredging in February.

“By the time we were able to get all the procurement documents together and get a contract awarded, we basically had about 15 days before the federal government was going to shut us down for restrictions for flounder. They won’t let us dredge basically after April 1, so we weren’t able to get the dredging started until this fall,’ McGean said.

The first phase of canal dredging currently underway includes Canal #19, which is at Trimpers and Hitchens avenues; Canal #29, which is 48th Street surrounded by the Wight Bay Condominium; and Canal #21, which is on the south side of 52nd Street.

The contract also includes four large storm drain outfalls where the sediment from those outfalls is plugging the canals. The four outfalls are located on Seaweed Lane, Tunnel Ave., Sinepuxent Ave. and Jamaica Ave.

“The first three canals were the shallowest canals, so they were our top priority, and the outfalls we received historic complaints about,” McGean said.

McGean furthered the council approved $250,000 in the current Fiscal Year 2015 budget for additional dredging, and Hi-Tide Marine has agreed to hold its bid unit price to dredge additional canals this season.

“I looked at out canal priority list … and tried to find some canals that would approach that total and were relatively in the same general area as where Hi-Tide is working now. I identified three canals,” he said.

The first canal is located at 25 1/2 Street where the old Misty Harbor Motel was once located. The property is currently vacant and the bulkhead was recently improved.

The second canal is between Tern and Plover drives, and third canal is between Tern Dr. and the back side of Jolly Roger Amusement Park.

According to McGean, the bulkhead between Tern and Plover is generally in good condition but not so much behind Jolly Roger that has moved up in priority between the effects of the Robin Drive Shore Line Project and Hurricane Sandy.

“Is it ready to collapse? No, they have done some structural repairs. However, it is leaking. This is a tough one because on other canals when we have failing bulkheads on both sides you would have an incentive for those people because they are docking their boats. At Jolly Roger. no one is docking boats in that canal, and it is a very long stretch of bulkhead we are talking about,” McGean said. “If we say we are not going to dredge this canal until the bulkhead is repaired or replaced, it will be quite some time because it is not at the point where we would condemn it. It is in that grey area, and in this case you would be penalizing the people on the east side of Tern for something they necessarily don’t have a lot of control over.”

Councilman Doug Cymek suggested McGean speak with the Jolly Roger property owner who could be amenable to interim bulkhead repairs.

“Knowing the owner, I would say, yes, and I would be happy to go down there and try to work something out,” McGean said.

Mayor Rick Meehan recalled when canal dredging discussions arrived it was noted the canals without decent bulkheads should not be prioritized.

“We want to make sure when we dredge the canals it would be effective, and for it to be effective as it can possibly be that would be the right thing to do,” he said.

Councilman Wayne Hartman asked where the town stands with the canal dredging schedule.

McGean responded with the first phase just now being conducted and lack of funding the town is behind schedule.

“It will take seven years to get all of the high-priority canals done. I have permitted the first three years’ worth of canals. We would like to be able to spend $500,000 to $600,000 per year to reach that goal. The first year we took $500,000 out of fund balance. This current year we appropriated $250,000, so we are behind this year,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the existing canal contract to include dredging canals at 25th Street and on the east and west sides of Tern Dr.

“I have already had a gentleman come up to me to thank us for finally beginning the dredging process. He understood it had been a long time coming but he was happy that it had begun … we can now see the light at the end of the canal as things are moving forward,” the mayor said.

 

Concept Pitched To Market Ocean City As Major Fishing Destination

A new website, www.FishInOC.com, has been created to market the town's popular industry. Screenshort courtesy of D3Corp and Fish In OC, LLC

OCEAN CITY – A local fishing expert could be casting the line to reel in a larger population of visitors to Ocean City to take advantage of all the fishing opportunities the resort has to offer.

On Monday afternoon, Scott Lenox of Fish In OC, LLC., who is also a host of Hooked on OC, pitched the travel show concept of Fish In OC to the Tourism Commission.

“Scott [Lenox] approached me several months ago about a concept to market Ocean City as a destination for fishing similar to Ocean City Golf Getaway, which is a market co-op of all the golf courses. It really is an industry that is scattered … with real no cohesive effort to push fishing,” Tourism Director Donna Abbott said.

Lenox first appeared before the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), which favored the concept but recommended he go before the Tourism Commission as TAB’s duties focus on bringing forward and assisting to fund new special events, not marketing ventures.

Lenox explained he attended a golf trade show last March representing Ocean Pines with OC Golf Getaway where an attendee recognized him from the Hooked On OC show.

“We started talking and by the end of the conversation he was coming to Ocean City to see what the White Marlin Open was all about,” Lenox said.

That is when Lenox realized there is not a co-op marketing initiative for fishing in Ocean City.

“The ball started to get rolling … and now it is way further along than I would have expected in the first year,” said Lenox, who has taken the concept on independently. “I have gotten a lot of industry support … I currently have eight boats that are going to be involved with me, and all but one marina that is still thinking about it right now, as well as a lot of support from the shoulder industry such as restaurants and hotels.”

Lenox has created a Fish In OC trade show booth and has already booked six outdoor trade shows scattered through New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

“There is everything from fishing to hunting, to people selling jet skis and RVs. The first show is in Harrisburg in February. I know the town goes there to represent Ocean City and the tourism part of it but I am going to be there for both,” Lenox said.

Lenox and D3Corp has also created a website, www.FishInOC.com, and a trip planner that will offer the different boats in Ocean City, accommodations, things to do and more.

Fish In OC is also giving away fishing trips in Ocean City as a mechanism to build an email database. The same idea has been done by the town with the OC Experience, which is a trade show booth concept brought forward by event promoter Brad Hoffman a few years ago.

Lenox proposed to the Tourism Commission a $15,000 advertising package that includes the display of Ocean City tourism videos while Fish In OC attends the six outdoor travel shows where a potential 300,000 people attend.

“On one television I am going to have Hooked On OC … on the opposite side of the booth I am going to show tourism videos,” Lenox explained.

Also, the Ocean City logo will be displayed on the front page of the Fishing Planner with a full page advertisement on the back of the Fishing Planner as done with the OC Golf Getaway magazine.

There will be a link to the town’s website, www.OCocean.com on the front page of www.FishInOC.com, along with Ocean City features such as the Boardwalk will be listed under Fish In OC website’s Things to Do tab. Ocean City’s Vacation Guide will be distributed at the trade shows to at least 300,000 people. Lenox does the writing for the fishing section of that guide.

“I am going to be in a different neck of the woods, shaking hands with people … and any of you that know me and know how long I have lived in Ocean City should feel confident that if any questions come up about Ocean City in general I would be ok to answer those too. You would have a good representative at the shows not just for fishing but for the tourism part of it also,” Lenox said.

Abbott pointed out the current budget includes $10,000 to fund travel show expenses.

“When you look at what Ocean City offers, outdoor recreational activities such as this is part of the draw to Ocean City. Obviously we have successful marinas, businesses that rent boats and things of that nature,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “It is good to change it up a little it. There is a growing need for marketing opportunities for fishing … I would suggest that this becomes our trade show initiative for this year.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed there is a large market for fishing in Ocean City that not only includes hundreds of boat rentals and marinas, but also bait and tackle shops, as well as hotels and restaurants will benefit.

The mayor recommended the Town support Fish In OC with the $10,000 advertising budgeted for trade shows as well as throw in OC Experience’s equipment as an in-kind service to make up for the $5,000 difference.

The commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to the full council to approve the marketing opportunity with Fish In OC, LLC to operate the Town of Ocean City’s trade show initiative this year. The concept will come before the council next week.

 

 

Councilman-Elect James: ‘I Believe My Age Will Be Positive For Council’

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OCEAN CITY – Matthew James rocked the local government scene this week as not only the youngest person to be elected to the City Council but the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s municipal election.

James, 21, received the most votes in the 2014 municipal election becoming the youngest person to ever serve on the Ocean City Mayor and City Council. James received 1,666 votes followed by Wayne Hartman, who received 1,345 votes, incumbent Council President Lloyd Martin, who received 1,342 votes, and Tony DeLuca, who received 1,287 votes. There were a total of 2,348 voters in this year’s election.

All the votes were in by 8 p.m. on Tuesday night and an hour later the public filed into the hall where the voting took place that day at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. All candidates took stance with pen and paper in hand prepared to begin tallying the votes.

The number of votes each voting booth received per candidate was read aloud, and by the third machine attention started to gather toward James, who was surrounded by family and friends. In the end, James was announced as the winning candidate receiving the most votes as his supporters gathered around him.

“I am extremely excited, and just couldn’t be happier right now. I received a lot of support from my family and friends, and obviously the voters of Ocean City, so I am very appreciative of that,” James said on Wednesday morning.

The James clan had a long day on Tuesday greeting and speaking with voters, as many candidates do on Election Day.

“I was getting a lot of positive feedback from the voters, so I felt pretty good about the way things were going,” James said. “I never would have expected to be the top vote getter. I had a few people tell me right before we went in that they had heard a lot of positive feedback throughout the day, and they thought it was possible but this being my first time running for anything I was surprised to get the most votes. I thought he [Martin] was going to get the most votes. He has been very supportive, and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me.”

James was the most nervous the morning of Election Day but as he spoke with voters throughout the day his nerves began to calm. He said he walked into the announcement of the election results with confidence.

James attributes receiving the most votes to his extensive campaign that included thousands of dollars in advertising and old fashioned campaigning.

“I knocked on a lot of doors and met a lot of people. I had a lot of people ask about my age but I usually left the door feeling confident in the conversation that I had with the voter. Getting out and meeting people was the biggest thing, and leaving them with an experience for when they walked into the voter booth and saw my name they remembered I had to say,” James said.

James, who is son of Carousel Group Hotel Managing Partner Michael James and his wife, Marilyn, was raised in Ocean City’s tourism industry, as well as assisted in his father’s political campaigns for Maryland State Delegate in 2006 and Maryland State Senate in 2010.

“We are a pretty politically active family, and I think that could have helped. I did have people question why I was doing this or what made me run for City Council, and I think my political involvement on my dad’s two campaigns is what led to my interest in politics at such a young age,” he said.

James also attributed his votes to being able to relate to the younger Ocean City generation. However, he pointed out the majority of voters in Ocean City is an older population.

“I believe my age will be positive for council. Having a young person on council will be beneficial just to have a different outlook on things, and to have a different perspective on many of the things that come before the council,” he said. “I am open to hearing what everybody has to say. Even if I don’t agree with them … I will always listen to a person’s views and new ideas.”

As far as living a life of a 21-year-old while serving on council as well as being a college student, James believes he will be able to balance both.

“I don’t think I am cutting myself short at all. If anything I think I am helping myself. This will be great for me, and positively affect everybody,” he said.

After being sworn in during Thursday evening’s Mayor and City Council organizational meeting, James is looking forward to beginning the learning experience.

“At first I think I am going to listen to the council members, residents, and business owners, and hear what everybody has to say. It is going to be a learning experience. Obviously I have never done this before,” he said. “Coming into this as a new face in local government, at first I need to sit down and listen.”

During the organizational meeting, who will serve as council president and council secretary will be voted on, both of which James says he has no interest in at this time. However, it is possibility one day.

“I definitely see myself staying around the area. I love Ocean City and I plan on being here for a long time. I am not sure I am going to serve on council for the rest of my life but I plan to be involved in the community and an active participant in local politics,” he said.

 

 

Election Results

Matt James: 1,666

Wayne Hartman: 1,345

Lloyd Martin: 1,342

Tony DeLuca: 1,287

Chris Rudolf: 1,075

Joseph Hall: 775

Joe Cryer: 464

 

 

 

 

More Enforcing Of Rental Regs Sought In OC; Planning Commission, Council To Discuss Rentals

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OCEAN CITY – Although a formal recommendation to the Mayor and City Council was not a result of this week’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s deliberation over rental issues in Ocean City, a list of goals was formed as the commission looks forward to an open discussion with the legislative body.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing last month to consider amending Ocean City’s Code in regards to Single Family Residential District (R-1) and Mobile Home Residential District (MH) 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 hearing 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 community.

The hearing left standing room only in council chambers with the majority of speakers asking the commission to focus on enhancing the enforcement of existing rental regulations, as well as complaints over overflowing trash, noise, parking congestion and the number of occupants of rentals being well over then the code allows.

On Wednesday evening, the commission reconvened to deliberate the findings of the hearing with each member taking their turn to state an opinion.

“The last thing I want to do is create more laws, rules and regulations or ordinances, so whatever path this takes us down I think our path ought to be to utilize the tools that we already have and not create more,” Commission member Palmer Gillis said. “It seems to me with the testimony that we heard and staff comments there are existing laws, federal and municipal, that will prevail and create a framework from which we can provide further guidance to the community.”

Gillis questioned additional funding for enhanced funding and pointed out the City of Salisbury provides enterprise funds for such expenses.

“I don’t know the money aspect as much but I think we need to put laws around the rental licensing money that is generated, which I believe is $1,060,000 a year to better enforce and improve the methodology that we have to enforce, implement and monitor existing laws,” he said.

Commission member Joel Brous was in agreement existing regulations need to be better enforced, adding smaller subsets of the R-1 district could be focused on when it comes to rentals.

“Not across the board because too much is set in stone but focus on the integrity of some of the smaller areas of R-1,” he said.

Commission member Peck Miller furthered, the town could better educate property owners and renters of existing rental laws.

“Tying into the landlords is very important in enforcing the existing laws that we have. I am not up for more rules and regulations, but I do want to make sure the sanctity of the single-family homes is taken care of, especially the people who live here,” he said.

Miller added the commission should consider placing a seven-day minimum on rentals in the R-1 district to help address problems.

Commission member John Staley recognized property owners’ frustrations with the police when a complaint is received, as many explained the police would drive by but wouldn’t stop and the problems, especially noise, would continue into the early hours of the morning.

“Also regarding licensing, for the number of people that rent versus the number of people that pay for a license is a big difference. There is a lot of money involved in that, and I think we should do a better job in licensing this,” he said.

Commission member Lauren Taylor felt that the rental license database should be better accessed by police followed by a notification to property owners.

“What seems to be missing is the attachment of how many people are allowed. The rental agreement has to state the law of occupancy,” she said. “In this age of databases, it seems to me the police should be able to pull it up to find out how many people are supposed to be there.”

Commission member Chris Shanahan also recognized a major complaint was high numbers of people occupying a rental.

“We have to solve that on the front end because that is resulting in the other problems of trash and noise. It is just too many people in a small area, so we have to determine how to regulate that better,” he said. “I am also of the opinion that we don’t need more fees or costs associated with having a rental property. I think the hammer should be on the back end with violations. These people have to understand the rules are in place and if they are violating the rules on a consistent basis there has to be a serious hammer that comes down on them financially.”

Shanahan also felt the rental database should be better kept up to date, especially with police filing reports of complaints to keep accurate figures with it comes to problem tenants.

“Enforcement is the key. I don’t think the police can do it all themselves. I think we need more zoning officials to help,” he said.

Commission Chair Pam Buckley echoed many of the same opinions as her colleagues.

“There are some issues, but I don’t think we need to start from scratch and recreate the zoning ordinance,” she said. “A rental license is a privilege and with that comes responsibility, and you are responsible for that property and its surrounding neighbors.”

Buckley furthered, the first piece of information required for a rental license should be a 24/7 contact who can be available if a problem should arise, and if the contact does not respond then fines should start stacking up.

“If we can have the rental agreement on site, that would be the best thing to do because people should have some sort of contract to be there. It should be in some type of legal form whether it’s the names of who is supposed to be there, the dates and a signature,” she said. “One of our biggest things is making sure everyone is getting a rental license and that is going to be part of the education process of the neighbors and the people that live in the community. If they don’t have a license and they are renting, there is a fine for that.”

The commission recognized the recently re-established Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee is currently addressing rental issues as well.

PRESS Committee is a group of town officials authorized to address communitywide quality of life issues. The group consists of members from the police, building, zoning, fire marshal and finance departments, functions as a task force designed to meet regularly and discuss civil and criminal code violations within the community.

Miller concluded the main points of focus were having a 24/7 contact on file and existing rules and regulations be made more public, heightened education,  imposing stiffer fines, funded enforcement, consider a seven-day minimum for rentals in the R-1 district and PRESS to become more active.

Buckley was tasked to create a template of a recommendation to the Mayor and Council and asked for the commission to get on the council’s work session agenda as soon as possible to have an open discussion on how to move forward.

 

Woman Cracks Own Case After Spotting Stranger Riding Her Stolen Bike In Downtown OC

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OCEAN CITY – One Ocean City local’s good fortune of recovering her stolen bikes serves as reminder to seasonal and year-round residents to take precaution to keep their own bicycles safe this summer.

For many Ocean City residents, their bicycles are a sentimental object, whether it is a means of transportation or the enjoyment of peddling around the resort during the summer months. Unfortunately, many bicycles fall victim to theft and never seen again.

This was not the case for Heather Lowe, 26, who decided to take the case of her stolen bicycles into her own hands.

“At first I was really upset that my bike was stolen. I felt that I couldn’t trust the town anymore because I felt that we lived in a safer community,” Lowe said. “Taking it into my own hands I feel successful that I was able to get my bikes back and it wasn’t a total lost. With the police telling me it happens all the time, it is sad. I was ecstatic to recover my bikes because it more of a sentimental recovery then financial.”

Lowe noticed two of her bicycles had been stolen on the morning of Sunday, May 18. When she arrived home from work the night, her bikes were still in place under her condominium building in the area of 128th Street but the next morning the cable to the bike lock had been cut.

According to Lowe, when she filed a report with the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) that day, the seasonal officer who reported to the scene explained bicycle thefts are common in Ocean City this time of the year, and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if the bicycles were never recovered.

“He didn’t reassure me my bikes would be returned, and had said this type of thing happens frequently,” she said. “I had texted him pictures of the bicycles I owned that he included in the report, and said he would do a roll call entry, so that every shift would see the pictures of the bicycles.”

On Wednesday, June 4, around 5 p.m. Lowe was entering Ocean City from Route 50. While stopped at the traffic light on Baltimore Ave. and 2nd Street, she observed a female riding one of her stolen bicycles. It was immediately identifiable as it is a pink cruiser decked out with local surf shop stickers.

“I called the police while I followed her onto the Boardwalk, and I told her she was riding my stolen bicycle. She was a foreign exchange student. I held her there until the police came, and while we were waiting she had told me she bought the bicycle from a gentleman that lives in her building,” Lowe said. “Whoever stole them had to have a pickup truck, and means to go around uptown, cutting cables and locks, stealing many bikes.”

Lowe was able to find out the female lived in the apartment building, Summer Semester, on 2nd Street and St. Louis Ave.

“They tried to sell my bike to her for $50 but bargained down to $30. From what she was saying, it sounded like he was selling numerous bikes. Her friends had walked up on the Boardwalk and acknowledged they were aware they had bought stolen bikes,” Lowe said.

Once the officer arrived and had confirmed it was Lowe’s stolen bicycle, she retrieved her bicycle and returned home.

“Once I found out that this guy living in her building was selling stolen bicycles I was curious,” she said.

Around 6:30 a.m. on Friday, June 6, Lowe was on the way to drop her boyfriend, Craig Hetrick, off at work when they drove past Summer Semester and spotted her other stolen bicycle parked under the building. At that moment, Lowe saw two seasonal officers and waved them over to explain the situation. The action attracted the attention of Summer Semester building manager George Harkins.

“He said he didn’t tolerate stolen property under his building, and a week previous a husband and wife had come and recovered one of their stolen bikes,” Lowe said. “Just from my observation from under the building it looked like there were several other stolen bikes from uptown because there were beach cruisers with Fenwick Island Surf Shop stickers on them.”

By watching surveillance footage, Harkins was able to identify a male tenant, a J-1 student, selling the stolen bicycles to other J-1 students. Harkins also confirmed there was more than one case where stolen bicycles were recovered from Summer Semester that was sold by the same student. Once identifying the suspect, Harkins turned him over to the OCPD, as well as his sponsor with the United Work and Travel program, and he was evicted from the building.

“He told the police he was selling used bikes for someone from West Ocean City for a commission,” Harkins said.

OCPD Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay O’Neal confirmed this week OCPD is currently investigating the case. According to O’Neal, there have been a number of bicycle thefts reported so far this summer.

In the meantime, O’Neal advised anyone who has a bicycle stolen to contact the police department at 410-723-6600. An officer will respond to file a description of the bicycle, so that if any officer comes across a bike that is believed to be stolen or abandoned, the department can determine who the bike belongs to and return it to the owner.

O’Neal furthered the first thing a citizen who owns a bicycle should do is to register it with OCPD by filling out a form and sending it to OCPD or stopping by the Public Safety Building. A bicycle registration form can be downloaded from http://oceancitymd.gov/Police/registration.html.

No Decision On Operator’s Request To Rent Trikkes On Boards

Photo by www.electric-scooters-galore.com

OCEAN CITY – Before sending a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council on the rental of electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk and at Northside Park, the legal jargon of the proposal will be examined by the city solicitor for further discussion.

In January, Bryant Hungerford was scheduled to come before the Police Commission to review his request to rent the electric version of a Trikke on the Boardwalk. Hungerford was unable to attend the meeting at that time but the commission’s initial discussion resulted in denying the request due to high speed and the potential of adding further chaos to the Boardwalk.

A Trikke is a brand of a three-wheel, or three-point, standing, carving vehicle that resembles a scooter, and can be body powered by a swerving action or electronically powered.

At that time, Ocean Police Department (OCPD) Lt. Scott Harner explained the vehicle is defined by the Maryland Transportation Article as a “Motorized minibike”, which means a motor vehicle that has two or three wheels, and is not subject to registration under Title 13 of the article. A motorized minibike does not include a motor scooter, a moped or a farm tractor.

Ocean City’s Code states, “the operation of bicycles, pushcarts and Electronic personal assistive mobility device (EPAMD) on the boardwalk is only permitted from Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. of the same day, from Tuesday after Labor Day through Friday before Memorial Day at any time, except for the times of Springfest and Sunfest.”

An EPAMD, also known as a Segway, is defined as a device that has two non-tandem wheels, is self-balancing, is powered by an electric propulsion system, has a maximum speed capability of 15 mph and is designed to transport one person.

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.”

Harner expanded that part of the code, saying, “The motorized version of the Trikke is prohibited … on the Boardwalk at any time, so I don’t think it is possible for Mr. Hungerford to proceed renting them on the Boardwalk as it is currently prohibited.”

On Monday, Hungerford came before the commission presenting the low-powered electrically driven Trikke with a 250-watt motor. The Trikke can travel up to 16 mph but Hungerford proposed installing a speed limiter that would reduce the maximum speed for rentals to 9 mph.

“My request is to rent and operate electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk during regular bicycle usage hours and on the bike path at Northside Park. Both locations currently allow electrically driven Segways,” Hungerford said. “The Trikke is substantially more visible than a banana bike and it takes up less room then a surrey. The Trikke is safe, stable and slow.”

According to Hungerford, both the Consumer Product Safety Act and Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act set forth low-powered electric bikes and three-wheeled electric Trikkes are defined as bicycles and are to be regulated as bicycles. The act states the federal code pertaining to a two- or three-wheeled, low-powered electric Trikkes shall supersede any state law that is more stringent than federal law.

“If it supersedes state law, it should supersede local law,” he said. “I have received a written opinion from the Assistant Attorney General in the State of Maryland that the state would use the federal definition of a electric bicycle and it is not subject to registration to the Motor Vehicle Administration.”

Hungerford concluded there are no limits to the number of bicycles, surreys and banana bikes on the Boardwalk or at Northside Park.

“I’m sure there are at least 1,000 bicycles, surreys and banana bikes available for rent right now on the Boardwalk. It would be unfair to exclude the Trikke vehicle because it would be the only vehicle eliminated because of congestion or because of the quantity of vehicles. The Trikke is safer than the existing bicycles on the Boardwalk,” he said.

Commission Chair and Councilman Doug Cymek felt the commission was at a disadvantage given City Solicitor Guy Ayres was absent from the meeting.

“There is an ‘X’ amount of vehicles you can put in a given space on the Boardwalk, and we are getting to the point that we are saturated,” he said. “In my personal opinion, I feel it has become a public safety issue, and I would like to have the opportunity to find out how many pedestrian bicycles and rental incidents we have had on the Boardwalk before we make this decision.”

Mayor Rick Meehan felt that times have changed and allowing the rental of electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk would keep Ocean City up to date.

“To be able to ride it, to look around and being 2014 seeing what is happening in other areas, I think we always have to be open-minded,” he said.

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro pointed out a Trikke traveling at 9 mph would travel the entire length of the Boardwalk in 15 minutes.

“Nine mph doesn’t seem real fast but it is not slow,” he said. “Adding that piece of equipment moving at that speed could cause a problem.”

Harner added the scooter rentals in town are limited to a certain speed but the police department has encountered issues with scooter rental operators increasing the speed limit unbeknown to the OCPD.

“I appreciate your legal references … but I am having trouble within the information you provided with the interpretation that it is a bicycle. The challenge with the information that you provided I would think an attorney would find is … a bicycle is very clearly defined as having two or three wheels and it has fully operable pedals, and your Trikke does not have pedals,” he said.

Cymek concluded the commission will pass Hungerford’s proposal onto Ayres for comment and the discussion can be furthered at the June 9 commission meeting.

 

Ocean City Decides Against Hiring Firm To Endorse Flood Insurance Appeals; Major Changes Ahead For Coastal Property Owners

The beach is pictured after a significant fall story in 2009. File Photo

 

OCEAN CITY – The City Council decided this week against contracting with an engineering consultant firm to represent the city when, or if, property owners appeal to the federal government over proposed changes to flood insurance rates.

The decision means Ocean City will remain the middle man between property owners and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when it comes to individuals appealing proposed changes to the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

The Town of Ocean City received a letter in February from Flood Insurance and Mitigation Administration Chief of Engineering Managment Branch Luis Rodriguez explaining the 90-day appeal process for the proposed changes in the FIRM and Flood Insurance Study (FIS).

According to the letter, the proposed flood hazard determinations, if finalized, will become the basis for the floodplain management measures that Ocean City must adopt or show evidence of having in effect to remain qualified for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, FEMA will provide community officials and citizens an opportunity to appeal the proposed flood hazard information presented on the preliminary FIRM and FIS report.

During the 90-day appeal period, any owner or leasee of property in Ocean City who believes their rights will be adversly affected by the proposed flood hazard determinations may appeal to the Town of Ocean City, or to an agency the town publicly designates. The appeal data must then be submitted to FEMA. Only appeals of the proposed flood hazard determinations supported by scientific or technical data can be considered before FEMA makes its final flood hazard determination.

The letter furthers, if FEMA does not receive an appeal or other formal comment from the Town of Ocean City in its own name, they will consolidate and review appeal data and comments from individuals the town will forward, and FEMA will make such modifications to the proposed flood hazard information presented on the FIRM and in the FIS report as may be appropriate.

If the Town of Ocean City decides to appeal in its own name, all individuals’ appeal data must be consolidated into one appeal by the town, because in this event FEMA is required to deal only with the local government as representative of all local interests.

Director of Planning & Community Development Matt Margotta explained to the Mayor and City Council during Monday evening’s regular session, FEMA has created an update to the FIRM affecting Ocean City, as well as completed a public review process for the proposed updated maps. The advertised 90-day appeal period is open until June 12.

The current process being followed is the Town of Ocean City receives appeal applications from Ocean City property owners and sends them to FEMA Region III for review. However, the town can choose to endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications from Ocean City property owners by hiring an engineering consultant firm to evaluate and endorse applications.

Margotta did not recommend the town endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications due to city staff not being certified to evaluate any applications.

According to Margotta, the town has not received any pre-FIRM appeal applications to date but acknowledged several property owners from north Ocean City, more specifically 143rd to 146th streets, areas proposed to be rezoned as A0, will most likely have a significant increase in flood insurance costs and therefore are likely planning on submitting an appeal.

“We do not believe there is anything wrong with the data that FEMA used to make its determination,” City Manager David Recor said of staff’s recommendation to pass on hiring an engineering consultant. “We believe that $100 million in beach nourishment and protection measures for the beach have been successful and the information that FEMA relied on to make its determination is in large part due to that investment. Their determinations have to be scientifically or technically incorrect and if a property owner believes that data is flawed it is their responsibility to fill out an application consistent with the criteria that is outlined in the statute. We will facilitate that process but not are recommending that we be responsible for challenging that data.”

Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out the number of applications to be received is unknown, and if the town chose to hire an engineering consultant, it will leave an open check, most likely to reach at least $15,000 per application.

“It will open the town up to a huge liability and the costs could get out of control, as well as think about spending more time with one property over another property. It will be hard for the staff to regulate how well the consultant is doing his or her job,” Acting City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said.

Council Secretary Mary Knight made a motion to accept the recommendation to not endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications, and the council voted 5-0, with Councilman Dennis Dare absent and Pillas abstained to approve.

There were no public comments taken prior to deliberation but during the citizen comment portion of the meeting a few north Ocean City property owners took the opportunity to speak to the matter.

“According to the letter that was written to Mayor Meehan, it has to be done by presenting scientific evidence, which would be an engineer to determine if FEMA is correct or incorrect, and we have a ballpark estimate of about $12,000 for that fee,” property owner Robert Chertkof said. “Basically what I heard earlier was this council saying they don’t want to spend any money on an engineer, which is concerning because we are taxpayers, and it seems to be you should be our sword and our shield to help us or defend us, whatever the case may be, instead of say we are on our own.”

Chertkof’s neighbor, Gwyn Tober, stated she is has been paying $312 a year for 23 years for flood insurance but the new map with raise her insurance to at least $7,000 a year.

“That is huge,” she said. “That is a lot of money and if I go to sell that property I have to disclose that to a buyer. That is affecting all of those people. It is not a simple issue.”

Mac Balcom of Ocean Place Condominiums on 146th Street, said his association has begun its own appeal process by hiring an engineering consultant. He reported not many, if any, Ocean City property owners know of the changes being proposed.

“I was here in November talking about this, and I was kind of shooed away I felt, and the discussion that you had tonight should have been held in November in my opinion,” he said. “When does the public find out about this? I think that is where the City Council could have played a better role in getting the word out and possibly present a unified face, even if it wasn’t hiring an engineer.”

Insurance Management Group, Inc., President Reese Cropper requested the council challenge FEMA on risk factors used to develop the proposed map and report.

“I don’t think the federal government does everything right … we all seem reluctant to go to the federal powers and challenge what they do, and that is what I have seen happening in this city,” he said. “This FEMA report does not take into consideration some risks that I think you should think about.”

According to Cropper, the report does not take into account storms such as the the winter storm of 1992 that happened overnight. The storm breached Assateague Island wiping out Snug Harbor, and Ocean City’s dunes were decimated. As well as, does not take into consideration Superstorm Sandy in 2012 because the study began prior to. The study did use the storms of Isabel, Ida and Ernesto that were not a direct hit on Ocean City.

“To me that says we need to pull back and re-evaluate this,” he said. “I think this map is flawed not taking Sandy in consideration of anything. FEMA should withdraw the map for now and look at what Superstorm Sandy’s effects would have been on this city.”

Cropper furthered the study focused on the dunes in Ocean City but doesn’t take into consideration the bay or the ocean rising.

“Most of Ocean City is being rezoned into a X zone, which means that there are going to be buildings out there that are not going to be required to buy flood insurance … it is the most ludicrous thing that we live on a barrier island and we are not going to be required to buy flood insurance. It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I think it is the city’s duty to challenge FEMA … what are you going to do when there is a storm and you have most people uninsured? You’re going to have blight, you’re going to have people that walk away from their properties, you going to have a tax base that is going to go down, you are going to have real estate go down in value, and you’re going to have property taxes that go way down in revenue… This is the only city that I know of on the coast line that has been relaxed in flood zones. Something is not right.”

Recor responded Cropper doesn’t need to look any further than to the coastal towns to the south.

“There is an active FBI investigation on these changes in coastal communities and the amount of money that is going to the National Flood Insurance Program, so there are plenty of examples out there, such that it is suspicious,” Recor said.

 

Ocean City Not Likely To Reduce Skate Park Hours After Usage Impresses

1 skate park

OCEAN CITY – Following a year of studying the usage of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park, the Recreation and Parks Commission plans to recommend to the full Mayor and Council its funding stay as is.

This week the Skate Park Committee reconvened to look over additional data collected at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park of usage and, expenses and revenue.

This time last year, the Mayor and City Council voted to have Ocean Bowl Skate Park operate through the summer during its normal hours, which is open seven days a week during daylight. However, cost-cutting changes were proposed to shut it down during the months of January and February during the week. The reduction in hours would have saved the town approximately $21,000.

Due to the public’s backlash, the council reconsidered the decision and voted to appropriate $21,000 in the FY14 budget to have the Ocean Bowl operate its normal hours during the off-season and continue with the formation of a skate park committee to conduct a study.

The committee first met a couple of months ago when 2013 data was reviewed. In summary, Recreation and Parks Assistant Director Susan Petito presented the skate park was open a total of 323 days during 2013.

According to the report, up to January there were 10,329 visits to the Ocean Bowl in 2013, showing daily attendance averaging nearly 31 skaters per day.

The skate operation brought in a total of $55,194 in revenue, which was derived from pass visits, pad rentals, product sales and numerous camps and programs. Additionally, the park received a donation of $1,000 from the Elks Lodge to help show support for its continued operation.

Total staff hours equaled 5,361 for a wage expense of $64,576. Petito noted that staff members are not only responsible for the supervision of the skate park, but they also teach lessons, support scheduled programs and competitions, and support and protect the entire two-block area that encompasses the Downtown Recreation Complex.

The report furthered, per Councilman Dennis Dare’s request, the staff members at the Ocean Bowl have begun to track the departure time of each participating skater so that an estimate of skater hours spent in the park may be determined on a daily basis.

From Thursday, Jan. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 9, the park was open 17 days, 16 for which skater time in the park was collected. During those 16 dates, 227 skaters were in the park for a total of 639.5 hours, showing that skaters stay in the park an average of a little over two and half hours per day during the cold weather months.

In 2012, the Ocean Bowl cost $95,000 while in 2013 it cost $75,000 to operate.

Since last year, Ocean Bowl Manager Dave Messick reported the park has saved about $20,000 by tightening all expenses.

This week the committee reviewed progress at the Ocean Bowl in the first three months of 2014. Between January, February and March of this year, the Ocean Bowl was open 57 days with an attendance of 1,249. The total time spent in the park was 3,522 hours with an individual averaging 2.82 hours. There were 884 employee hours spent in the park with payroll expenses reaching $11,100. There were 62 daily passes sold, 106 annual passes sold and two pad rentals reaching revenue of $8,186 in the three months of this year.

“The recommendation is that we leave the skate park alone. It cut expenses and people are using it,” Commission Chair Councilman Joe Mitrecic said on Thursday.

According to Mitrecic, the Ocean Bowl is set to be funded the same as in previous years in the proposed FY15 Budget that is scheduled to receive its final vote on May 19.