Merchants Critical Of Proposed Change In Boardwalk Sign Law

OCEAN CITY – The Planning and Zoning Commission wanted to talk about outdoor displays at Tuesday’s public hearing, but some Boardwalk merchants were more concerned with a different kind of signage that has been popping up lately on the boardwalk: “Store For Rent.”

About a half a dozen Boardwalk merchants voiced their concerns about newly proposed guidelines that would monitor and structure the outdoor displays permitted by the town of Ocean City.

The Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) proposed guidelines that would allow 30 percent of storefront facades to be used for outdoor displays in the area of the Boardwalk south of 3rd street and restrict outdoor displays to be placed over the property line and out onto the Boardwalk above 3rd street.

Everyone in attendance agreed that policing the rules was the biggest factor in any change being deemed a success.

“Enforcement is the key to this whole process,” said Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith, “and a full-time officer to patrol the Boardwalk and make sure that merchants are in compliance with the rules is an option.”

In the past few years, merchants have been calling for a “level playing field” in which some neighboring businesses have been moving their outdoor displays onto the Boardwalk, thus giving what is considered an unfair advantage as far as catching the eye of passersby.

“Placing outdoor displays on the boardwalk is a privilege and not a right,” BDA member Bob Givarz said. “The Boardwalk is essentially a three-mile pedestrian mall, and we feel that it would be a good idea to have these guidelines as long as they are enforced properly.”

BDA President Vicki Barrett said that the guidelines were meant to be “regulatory and not prohibitive” but that was a claim that was not embraced by the collective group of merchants in attendance.

“I’m adamantly opposed to any of these restrictions, but I am in favor of greater enforcement of the current rules,” said Boardwalk property owner Lew Bush. “This year is going to be really bad, and we all bemoan the loss of any more retail space.”

Bush showed pictures of his recent vacation trips to European destinations like Rome and Florence, Italy, and pointed out that in all these beautiful and historic destinations, there was outdoor displays and merchandise.

What was more compelling however, was when he showed pictures of the Ocean City Boardwalk taken earlier that day showing numerous “store for rent” signs that stood out perhaps further than any clothing rack could have a storefront’s property line.

Bruce Krasner, another Boardwalk merchant, took huge exception to the rule that would limit the outdoor displays on storefronts to a third of the property.

“The 30-percent rule doesn’t make any sense.  This is the Boardwalk, not Rodeo Drive,” said Krasner. “You can’t just target T-shirt people, because T-shirt people are not bad people, we are just trying to make a living.”

Avi Sibony, owner of Sunsations, said that this is the first time since he came to Ocean City in 1983 that he can ever remember stores for rent on the Boardwalk.

“From day one, this decision was made by someone in someplace, and everything since has been a process leading to this, and if we don’t agree with it, they might just take everything away,” said Sibony. “Are you going to give me a discount on my property taxes for the parts of my property that I can’t use to sell my products?”

The commission will decide on the issue next Tuesday night at a scheduled work session.