Friday, November 7–Enforcer Eyed To Monitor Boardwalk Sign Law

OCEAN CITY – Boardwalk merchants beware: there could be a new type of enforcement officer patrolling the Boardwalk next summer.

In efforts to combat a growing problem of compliance with the regulations concerning signage placement by Boardwalk merchants, the Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) and the Planning and Zoning Commission are considering hiring a part-time enforcement officer to make sure businesses are following all the rules.

At Wednesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith gave a report on Boardwalk signage enforcement and advised the commission on steps to continue to, “keep everyone on an even playing field and abiding by the rules”, citing that “enforcement of these rules is still our biggest concern.”

Currently, Boardwalk merchants are not allowed to have signage, like the A-frame signs that sit just outside storefronts, on the Boardwalk, restricting them to the concrete slabs that are actually on the merchants’ property. It’s a fine line, but one that according to Smith, “many merchants violate (this rule) continually.”

Smith also proposed that the commission should consider passing a motion requiring property owners to do a survey in order to “define the exact property line”, and even posting a “layout of signage and clothing racks”, much like required postings of liquor licenses or fire marshal allowances in other businesses.

This form, if approved, would require businesses to essentially have a blueprint of their allowed placement of their outdoor bins, clothing racks, and/or signage in order for it to be easier enforced.

“The number one excuse we are given when we try to enforce these rules, is that no one knew it was prohibited, this might give it some uniformity” said Smith.

Commission member Lauren Taylor said, “The ocean is our No. 1 asset and the Boardwalk is No. 2. Some of the signage and displays look ragged and dirty, and we need to better enforce these businesses so we keep the boardwalk safe and clean.”

BDA President Vicki Barrett spoke about the competitive dynamic between Boardwalk merchants and though she agreed with many of the proposed ideas for better enforcement, she did disagree with the idea of making all business utilize one type of bin or signage.

“Creativity or innovation should be allowed on some level as these businesses won’t spend the money to have one uniform bin for their products, when they can build one themselves, whether it’s made of wood, or some other materials,” she said.

Barrett went on to describe how hard enforcement of these rules has been.

“At 5:01 on Fridays the signs get pushed forward onto the Boardwalk, and when one business gets away with it, then the business next door thinks they can too,” she said.

Commission member Peck Miller said that certain rules like the setback guidelines, which prohibits signage from hanging more than four feet from the top of the storefront, and being placed two feet from neighboring property lines, are efforts to “create parameters so there is a sense of uniformity for these businesses.”

Violation of these laws can come at hefty fines, with $500 warnings for the first offense, and $1,000 fine and up to two-week suspension of the privileges to advertise their products on the Boardwalk. These fines would essentially pay for the new enforcement officer’s salary, or as Commission Chair Pam Buckley proposed, “we could always find an intern who wants to be a police officer someday to save costs.”

The commission decided to take the issue to public hearing in early February, so that letters can be sent to the Boardwalk business owners within 45 days, notifying them of the hearing and possible rule changes.