OCEAN CITY – The discussion over implementing a R1A Single-Family Residential District has reached the Mayor and City Council, and it seems the immediate track will be finding a short-term solution until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete.
At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints, with the majority of those complaints deriving from Mallard Island. At that time, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District in regulating short-term and long-term rentals.
Although there was no official action made to city laws, the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues and enhance enforcement. Despite the reformation of PRESS, close to 80 percent of Mallard Island residents signed and submitted a petition in May requesting the implementation of an R-1A zoning district.
Subsequently, the Planning and Zoning Commission held another public hearing last month and voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to consider the formation of an R-1A zoning district, which currently does not exist in Ocean City’s code.
As proposed, the amendment to the code states, “The purpose of this district is to provide for established year round residents to maintain the integrity of family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and to make the area a sanctuary for people living in the neighborhood and to avoid the adverse effects of transient short term rentals. This district is for single-family residential development, together with accessory uses as may be necessary or are normally compatible with residential surroundings.”
The permitted use in an R-1A district would be a residence used for a year-round, or 12-month minimum, rental. Short-term rentals, for example the common weekly or mini-week vacation rentals, would be prohibited. If an R-1A district is added to the code, a neighborhood can apply to rezone and a public hearing would be held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the request. The commission would then forward a favorable or non-favorable recommendation to the council for the final decision.
During the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing, the voices of residents, rental property owners and real estate companies, who mostly united under Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR), were heard.
“We have heard the points of view from both sides, the pros and cons,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said before the Mayor and Council on Tuesday. “We are going to update the Comprehensive Plan in the near future … if we create a district, it should be part of that update because you have to apply it in a manner that is consistent with the plan itself. There are other parts to the plan where you have to consider the economic liability, desirability, and the enforcement … we are going to have to do an evaluation as part of the update of the plan of the district regulations and district mapping.”
It would make the most sense to establish an R-1A district comprehensively, City Solicitor Guy Ayres said. However, it doesn’t have to wait until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete.
“You can do a comprehensive rezoning as long as it complies with the current comprehensive plan,” Ayres said.
There is a great deal of support for and against an R-1A district in Ocean City, Mayor Rick Meehan, who is currently serving as acting city manager after former City Manager David Recor’s resignation last week.
“It would be something we could consider as part of the comprehensive zoning update that has to be completed by 2019, but it will before that because the goal is to move forward as quickly as possible,” Meehan said. “We are at a point in this community that a lot of changes have gone on or are about to go on, and it is certainly relevant to that conversation. I don’t want anyone to think this is going to be postponed. It should be a priority and the update of the plan is a goal of the [planning] department and the Planning Commission to move forward with this as soon as possible.”
According to Smith, the town is about six months out from starting the update of the Comprehensive Plan. The Town of Ocean City has been going through the process of hiring a new director for the Planning and Community Development Department. Once the director is hired, a bid package will be developed to contract with a Comprehensive Plan consultant, who will work with the planning department and the Town of Ocean City to update the Comprehensive Plan.
“We refer to our strategic plan quite a bit, and it had two visions that we started with from the beginning. One has to do with tourism but the other … is safe and clean quality neighborhoods for residents, is accessible and easy travel, and is a place for enjoyable experiences for all. If you don’t have a base of residents in Ocean City … then what kind of community do we have?” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “An issue has been brought forward for all of the residential areas in town. A solution of the R-1A is probably one of the many possible solutions, and I agree it needs to be looked at comprehensively.”
Dare pointed out there have been other short-term solutions aired that could play a role until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete, such as a separate rental license for the R1 districts and just eliminating “mini-week vacations” in those areas.
“It would help if the Mayor and City Council met with the planning commission and we got into these different issues where we can make some changes now not ruling out looking at the entire thing comprehensively,” Dare said.
A new Planning and Community Development director will soon be hired, and the Mayor and City Council will meet with the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss action, Meehan said.
“We have some direction, and some tasks at hand,” he said. “We all need to work together on it. What I hate to see is residents and members of our community attacking each other, whether you a year-round resident living in a single-family neighborhood or whether you’re a property owner who doesn’t live in Ocean City, but still has rights. We represent everybody. It is important that we all remember that and work together for that purpose.”