Compromise Pitched On Downtown Height Rules

OCEAN CITY – Discussions over the height limitations in the downtown area continued this week with the Mayor and Council, Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), and the Planning and Zoning Commission all weighing in on the issue.

The City Council was presented with the second reading of the ordinance that calls for a reduction of the height limitations in the DMX district, North Division to 3rd streets and Baltimore to Philadelphia avenues, from four stories and 40 feet to three stories and 35 feet. The intention of the Mayor and Council has been to preserve the charm of the downtown area and prevent overbuilding and excessive height in the downtown area.

The Mayor and Council was presented with the second reading of the ordinance in October, but tabled the issue after the owner of the Madison Beach Hotel, George Karvounis, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ordinance. Karvounis explained that he intended to build a four-story mixed use building and that when he purchased his property no one ever warned him that a change in height limits might take effect.

The ordinance appeared before the City Council again Monday night with a recommendation from the OCDC accompanying it.

OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin presented the City Council with a compromise. Irwin suggested that four stories and 40 feet be allowed if buildings maintain a minimum of 75 percent commercial along the front side of Baltimore Ave.

Councilman Jay Hancock voiced concerns over the potential for a “canyon affect” along Baltimore Ave., noting that after the peaked roof is added, the buildings would be too tall for that area.

Councilman Lloyd Martin said he thought the additional five feet would be a good incentive to bring mixed use to the area.

“I do believe that we do want commercial property downtown,” he said.

The council voted six in favor with Councilman Jim Hall abstaining to table the ordinance again and to allow for the Planning and Zoning Commission to review the issue. It was also noted that the compromise would fit Karvounis’s plans for his property.

The proposed compromise from the OCDC came before the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night, resulting in the unanimous decision to send a favorable recommendation of the amendments to the Mayor and Council.

The suggestion was made to give an additional five feet, allowing for buildings up to four stories and 45 feet to allow leeway for flood elevation and commercial use of the first floor.

Commission member Peck Miller showed support for the incentive, explaining that it will encourage mixed-use projects in the area. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas was present at the meeting and questioned what would happen if retail stores along on the first floor along Baltimore Ave. did not survive. Pillas pointed out that the town would then be left with the view of boarded up stores as people entered Ocean City.

Planning Commission Chair Pamela Buckley explained that allowing failed retail spaces to revert back to residential would counterbalance the intent of the compromise. She added that the area should be viable for retail stores and that business would come from the heavy foot traffic in the area and the increased foot traffic that would result from the residential sections of the building that would most likely be hotel rooms.

The recommendation will go back to the Mayor and Council for review and for a final decision.