Council Looks Past Concerns, Approves New Height Limitations

OCEAN CITY – Intent on preserving the historic charm of
the downtown area, resort officials this week approved new height restrictions
on new development in the oldest sections of Ocean City, but not before more
concerns were raised about the ordinance’s potential impact along the historic
Baltimore Avenue corridor.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved an
ordinance outlining height limitations in much of the downtown area in an
effort to prevent large-scale projects from proliferating in a section of Ocean
City known for its historic, low-rise buildings. For the most part, all agreed
the ordinance achieves the desired results.

“This is a major adjustment for downtown,” said Mayor Rick
Meehan. “This is a great ordinance.”

However, some on the council raised concerns the ordinance
as written does not go far enough in certain areas, particularly along
Baltimore Avenue. For example, Councilman Jay Hancock, who voted against the
ordinance at first reading last week, re-emphasized his point this week about
the possibility of the legislation having a reverse effect.

“I’d just like to reiterate my concerns about the
Baltimore Avenue corridor where the vast majority of the buildings are just
two- or three-stories tall,” he said. “Some of the nice, old classic two- to
three-story buildings will become overshadowed because we will end up with
five-story buildings down there.”

Hancock urged his colleagues to consider amending the
ordinance before passing it to make adjustments in the height limitations
proposed for Baltimore Ave.

“I think we need to keep the neighborhood in the
traditional Ocean City style and encourage people to keep those historic small
properties there,” he said. “I just think it will make a better ordinance and a
better Baltimore Avenue.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed the ordinance might
need tweaking.

“I’m all for protecting these neighborhoods and all of the
neighborhoods in Ocean City,” she said. “I would hate to see a hallway start
going up along Baltimore Avenue.”

However, Meehan said the council should pass the ordinance
as written and make adjustments to it in the future when necessary. The mayor
said delaying the ordinance could result in a rush to get in ahead of it.

“I don’t want to see this ordinance not pass now,” he
said. “If we put it off, if we delay this further, we’ll end up with some
buildings we don’t want in these areas. This is a great improvement and it has
come a long way.”

With that said, the council voted 7-0 to approve the
ordinance as written and vowed to revisit the prescribed height limitations
along Baltimore Ave. in the future.

The old town area of Ocean City was essentially divided
into four zones in which the new height restrictions would apply, each with its
own distinct differences in the zoning code amendment. Town planners took a
block-by-block survey of the existing buildings in the target area, which runs
roughly from North Division Street to 15th Street, and from
Baltimore Ave. to St. Louis Ave. or Edgewater Ave. depending on the area.

For example, the designated R-2, or medium residential
zone, runs from Philadelphia Ave. to Edgewater Ave. and from north of 3rd
Street to 15th Street. The R-2 zone will see the most stringent
changes in the code with the current height limitation of five stories reduced
to three stories upon redevelopment.

The R-3, or moderate residential, zone runs from north of
3rd street to 15th Street between Baltimore Ave. and Philadelphia
Ave. In the R-3 zone, the maximum height allowed for new development will
change from the existing five stories to four stories.

In the Downtown Mixed Use, or DMX, area from North
Division to 3rd Street between Baltimore Ave. and Philadelphia Ave,
there will be no change in the current maximum height allowed, which is four
stories. However, in the DMX zone from North Division to 3rd Street
between Philadelphia and St. Louis Ave., the new maximum height allowed will be
reduced from the current four stories to three stories.

It is important to note in all of the affected districts,
projects will be allowed to take advantage of a section in the town code that
allows for the use of attics or dormers when a building is designed in
compliance with the established downtown design standards or the upper downtown
design standards. Effectively, the provision allows new construction to gain an
extra half-story by complying with approved design standards.

Ironically, most of the existing buildings in the downtown
area are already well within the proposed height limitations even before the
code change was approved. For example, of the 423 structures in the surveyed
area, 222 are two stories high, 27 are one-and-a-half stories high, and 72 are
just one-story high. Just 58 are three-stories, while five are four stories
tall and just two are currently five stories tall.