Maintaining Commercial Encouraged

OCEAN CITY –A public hearing regarding development in commercial districts throughout town was held this week, and although no one from the public was present to voice their opinions, the Planning Commission moved forward with the possibility of changes that aim to protect commercial development.

In an effort to protect commercial land in the resort town and prepare for any future building booms, the Planning Commission is reviewing commercially zoned sections of town to decide whether commercial land needs to be protected or whether Ocean City already has a fair mix of residential and commercial properties.

The town’s Comprehensive Plan encourages mixed-use development and commercial development on both sides of Coastal. It also concludes that pyramidal zoning has allowed the market to determine the use of commercially zoned land.

Pyramidal zoning has been an issue for many years amongst the Planning Commission. Pyramidal zoning is a zoning code where the first zoning category is limited to certain uses, and each additional zoning category allows all uses allowed in the previous category, plus some others. More simply, pyramidal zoning prevents the Planning Commission from having control over residential development in commercial areas, an issue that some fear will result in the over-development of residential in the town and the eventual absence of commercial development.

Currently, there are 2,257 acres of total developable land in Ocean City, 602 of which is commercially zoned land.

The underlying fear is that while residential development is beneficial to the resort town, it is not beneficially to commercial business. It poses the question of what will happen when residential has replaced all of the commercial space. However the argument can also be made over what would happen if commercial development is required and the town is left with vacant storefronts.

The Planning Commission weighed in on the issue last week, discussing whether or not it would be economically viable or even feasible to force commercial development over residential development.

The commission considered two possibilities this week, discussing whether commercial development should be required through zoning techniques or encouraged through incentives.

“There’s no question, if you can give incentives you should,” said Commissioner Peck Miller. “As much as I don’t like pyramidal zoning, I can’t see us getting rid of it.”

Incentives already exist in the downtown area, with the potential for an additional story if at least 75 percent of the buildable first floor width of a parcel fronting the commercial street is dedicated to commercial use. The incentive was created in an effort to encourage mixed use downtown rather than strictly residential.

The commission agreed that only allowing commercial development in commercial zones and not allowing residential would not be beneficial.

Commission chair Pamela Buckley suggested having a case-by-case basis as a conditional use for residential development in commercially zoned areas, pointing out that it would force developers to bring more creative plans to the table. “We need to see ingenuity,” she said, explaining that there are areas of town where a commercial development with housing would make sense.

The conditional use would also guarantee the Mayor and City Council’s role in the approval process with final approval.

“I like incentives personally. We ought to search for those incentives that make it work for a developer,” said Miller, maintaining that incentives should be developed to encourage commercial development.

“I think everybody favors incentives, we just don’t know how to apply them,” said Commissioner Thomas Singman.