Non-Conformity May Be Tackled By Zones In OC

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission
held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss two code amendments that could
adversely affect parking in the entire resort.

The hearing was held to consider amendments limiting the
number of off-street parking spaces that may be approved with reduced design
standards and another that would consider restricting the continuance of
nonconforming parking when a redevelopment involves a change of land use.

As for the first amendment that looks to reduce the
maximum amount of compact parking an establishment can seek to a 25-percent
limit, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith opened the hearing by explaining how
the process currently works.

“The design code currently permits the Board of Zoning
Appeals (BZA) to grant parking exceptions and reduction of parking requirements
and design standards in any district whenever the character of these, of the
building or land, such as to make unnecessary the full provision of the parking
facilities,” he said.

In the past, if applicants presented a strong enough case,
they could have any number of their spaces be a compact size even though there
was an unwritten 25-percent limit guideline, something the BZA and City Council
is looking to codify so the board has a rationale when considering parking
exceptions instead of being open ended.

As Smith pointed out, this is an important issue since
Ocean City is a town traveled to primarily by car.

As for city standards now, Smith said the city goes by a
one-size-fits-all policy with a nine-foot by 20-foot parking space. When
compact parking exceptions are sought, those spaces have a standard size of
eight feet by 18 feet.

 “We have adopted
8-foot wide, 18-foot depth in the upper downtown and lower downtown areas
because of the nature of the properties and the use of the properties,” Smith
said. “We felt that was appropriate for downtown because of the old town
development that exists and how hard it is to retrofit.”

Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director
Glenn Irwin then spoke, reiterating that any decision by the Planning and
Zoning Commission regarding the 25-percent ceiling wouldn’t affect the downtown
overlay districts since their design standards and incentives allow them to
reach a maximum of 50 percent.

Regan Smith, a lawyer with Williams Hammond Moore Shockley
& Harrison P.A., then offered up his concerns regarding the amendment,
saying it would only cripple properties whose lots are smaller, such as the
50-foot by 100-foot lots downtown.

“If you limit your nonconforming spaces, nothing can be
done with that property because the change of use or any type of change when we
have to go for any type of zoning approval means we can only have 25 percent
nonconforming parking and it’s only got two spaces to begin with, so what we
supposed to do with that?” he asked.

Smith said placing a ceiling on the amount of
nonconforming spaces only digresses from what the commission was made for in
the first place, to deal with these types of issues on a case-by-case basis.

“My point is, by limiting the Board of Zoning Appeals to
what they can do, you’re eliminating what they are exactly designed to do which
is deal with unique situations that come up,” he said.

From there, the commission moved to the second part of the
hearing which sought to weigh whether it should modify parking nonconformity on
a change of use property.

Change of use can include a commercial property becoming
residential, a residential property becoming commercial, or just a commercial
becoming commercial again such as a restaurant becoming a store.

Concerning commercial to commercial change of use, the
commission was leaning toward leaving that aspect alone and focused more on
commercial becoming residential, such as that of the Smuggler’s Cay property.

Before, nonconformity for the commercial property allowed
it to have less than ideal parking but a switch to residential would greatly up
the demand for parking in that area.

“We’ve hung our hat on the fact that it detrimentally
effects the neighborhood if we force the owners of these new condos to go park
on the streets all around their homes,” said Planning Commissioner Peck Miller,
explaining that the parking burden shouldn’t fall on neighboring properties
when a condo doesn’t provide sufficient parking.

Realizing that looking at nonconformity issues dealing
with the city as a whole would not work, commissioners began to ride on the
idea that maybe the amendments would be best if looked at in different,
individual zones.

Commissioner Lauren Taylor thinks taking it zone by zone
and creating standards for each so as to address these issues in certain areas,
with more specific parameters, would be ideal.

was then decided that the commission would continue the public hearing on a
later date when all the members could attend a work session that would bring
them up to date on the issues regarding the different zones and how these
amendments would adversely affect them, especially in the areas south of 17th