OCEAN CITY – Some members of the City Council took exception to the idea of granting special exceptions for downtown redevelopment.
A new ordinance concerning incentives for downtown redevelopment backtracked from first reading to a future work session on Monday night, after Council took umbrage with certain language in the ordinance, mostly pertaining to granting waivers to certain projects concerning the construction of loading zones.
“There are times on the Boardwalk, when a business doesn’t have a loading zone and their trucks need to back up to the top of the street, and it halts business for everyone else in that area until the unloading is completed, said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, “so I can’t support this as it’s written.”
Currently, in efforts to provide incentives to encourage redevelopment of the downtown area, much of which is filled with substandard lots, the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and the Mayor and City Council have taken exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
“What we are talking about here is incentives, and the reason for this ordinance is giving incentives to people if they can prove that they don’t need certain things,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “If you take away the case by case, and say that everyone is this and everyone is that, just remember that is what you said and be careful what you wish for.”
Councilman Jim Hall, on the other hand, thought that things would be more effective if one standard set of rules was implemented for everyone.
“If you build a commercial store, you know the UPS, Sysco, or delivery truck is coming everyday, so don’t come in here and say I don’t need a loading zone, because that is crap,” said Hall. “All they really want to do is jam more units in there and it backs up traffic, so let’s get rid of this clause to let people come in and politically argue for a waiver.”
Bob Givarz, member of the OCDC and chairperson for the Downtown Association, agreed with Hall to a certain extent, but stressed the need to look at this issue on a case-by-case basis.
“I agree with Councilman Hall that a lot of the loading and unloading that is in the public right away in the downtown is a problem,” said Givarz, “but if we don’t try to work out a compromise, we won’t get the needed redevelopment that we are striving for downtown, and you will continue to see properties deteriorate rather than improve.”
Givarz said that the problem will always be an issue on some level much like every other downtown area that is bound to get a bit backed up when large trucks unload on small streets. Yet, he thought the ordinance as a whole would be more helpful than harmful.
“Some of these incentives that we’ve asked for, we feel will spur some redevelopment in the area,” said Givarz, “and, the fact that mayor and council would have final authority on this provision, gives you the necessary ammunition to ask for those loading zones on a case by case basis as they come up.
Meehan said that the downtown area had bigger issues than just loading zones or special exceptions.
“If you really want to address the issues downtown, then you need to address the issue of non-conformity,” said Meeham, “because that is the 10-pound bag on the back of downtown Ocean City.”
Meehan also addressed Jim Hall’s worry about current zoning in the downtown area, which allows residential properties to be built in commercial zoning as long as there is commercial space on the ground floor.
“You can’t have the advantages of commercial zoning and be a residential property and that’s what everyone wants, to have it all, but only do a little bit,” said Meehan.
Hall said that a standard set of rules is needed so that loopholes that developers have been finding all too easily will be closed.
“The last few years, developers ask for substandard exceptions because they know they can do it,” said Hall. “Instead of using all the outs, and the exceptions, why can’t they just design the thing and build it right.”