City Hopes For Public Interest In Zoning Changes

OCEAN CITY – The City Council postponed its review of the Planning Commission’s recent recommendations on zoning changes this week, in hopes of garnering more public input through a second public hearing.

A public hearing was held on May 13 regarding development in commercial districts, but few were present and no public comment was made. Despite the lack of public comment, the Planning Commission moved forward with the task of examining commercial development and zoning regulations within the town through various meetings and discussions.

A recommendation was ultimately made and submitted to the Mayor and City Council for review this week, however both the Mayor and Council and Planning and Zoning Director Jesse Houston agreed that a second public hearing would be beneficial to everyone.

“It would probably be easier for people to react to a proposal, rather than come to a public hearing where a proposal hasn’t been put forth,” said Houston, explaining that a second public hearing, with the inclusion of the recent recommendations, will likely yield more public comment.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation calls for amendments to zoning regulations in the LC-1, SC-1 and BM-1 districts.

Goals of the amendments have been defined as, to encourage mixed-use development, as well as commercial development in commercial districts, to guide high density to the Oceanside, to move away from pyramidal zoning and to ensure there are adequate commercial services for both residents and vacationers in the future.

Discussions regarding the issue have centered on ensuring commercial space remains available within the town, while keeping in mind the unique economy of the resort town. Creating too much commercial space is not prudent within the resort and could ultimately result in empty storefronts. Conversely, filling too much commercial space with condos and solely residential development could result in a hindrance of commercial services.

To ensure a balance, the commission recommended changes to zoning regulations.

Development permitted by right, would include mixed-use development and commercial, or non-residential, development as permitted by the zoning district. Mixed-use is defined as “A development in which a gross floor area equal to a minimum of 20% of the lot area is devoted to commercial uses accessible to the general public that are permitted in the district, exclusive of residential uses including single family, multiple family, two family, hotel and motel units.”

The zoning changes call for residential density, including hotels/motels, in a mixed-use project east of Coastal Highway to be defined by the R-3 district, while residential density, including hotels/motels, west of Coastal Highway to be defined in the R-3A district, a density reduction.

Residential development, or mixed-use development that does not contain a sufficient amount of commercial use to qualify as “mixed-use,” would fall within the category of development by conditional use, rather than by permitted use. Residential development east of Coastal Highway would be defined in the R-3A district, a density reduction, with residential development west of Coastal highway, defined in the R-2 district, also a density reduction.

Appropriately zoned bayside parcels larger that five acres will continue to be able to apply for Planned Overlay District designation.

The recommendation will be presented at the second public hearing for public input.

Council member Jay Hancock suggested increasing advertisements of the public hearing to reach more citizens.

“The average citizen, who may have some thoughts and inputs, may not read the classifieds,” he said.