OC Weigh Options On Commercial Zone Districts

OCEAN CITY – In an effort to regulate residential growth in commercial areas in the resort, the Planning and Zoning Commission considered a variety of options this week, opting to take a closer look at a scenario that would only allow residential development in commercial districts on a conditional basis.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has held several discussions on the issue over the past two months, striving to find a balance of commercial and residential development in the resort.

The commission has noted on several occasions that Ocean City is a unique environment, in which residential uses, such as hotels and motels, could actually be considered commercial business for the town.

Typically, commercial space holds a higher value than residential. The converse has occurred in Ocean City, however, where residential space has trumped commercial space in value over the past few years.

Concern over the eventual loss of commercial space in the town prompted the commission to consider a variety of options this week that would work to either hinder residential development in commercial zones, or encourage more commercial development in the commercial zones.

Planning Director Jesse Houston presented the commission with four options. The first option calls for the commission to do nothing, to leave the code as is and continue to allow R-3 uses in commercial districts with no requirement for commercial uses.

Option two calls for the allowance of commercial uses and/or mixed uses by right in commercial districts, with residential uses allowed by conditional use only. Conditional use would require a residential project to come before the commission for approval.

Option three would reduce the residential density in commercial districts from R-3 density to R-2 or R-2a density, “to make it a little less attractive in these commercial districts for residential development,” explained Houston.

Option four focuses on incentives, providing appealing reasons for developers to include commercial in their projects.

“I like either option two or the incentives. If we don’t want to get too regulatory, then incentives may be the way to go,” said Houston.

“I think what we need to see is where it’s located and what they want to do with it,” said Commission Chairperson Pamela Buckley, pointing out that some residential uses make sense in commercial districts.

“All parcels are different,” agreed Commission member Lauren Taylor. “We don’t want to lose commercial or mixed use unless the project is appropriate for the neighborhood.”

Commissioner Peck Miller pointed out a problem with option two.

“I think the problem we’re going to run into is it’s going to become political,” said Miller.

Conditional use requires final approval from the Mayor and Council, which would ultimately leave any residential development in commercial district up to the discretion of the council.

“The market is always changing. It’s tough to put concrete rules on an, as of now, unstable market,” said Commission member Chris Shanahan.

“If there’s property that shouldn’t be commercial, then we should rezone them,” said Houston.

The commission agreed to take a closer look at the properties that could potentially be affected by the code change.

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith suggested an alternative to option two, which would allow for R-2 density in commercial districts with R-3 density as a conditional use. 

Houston agreed to draw up draft ordinances on both versions of option two for the commission to review.