OCEAN CITY – As level of a playing field as ever has been laid out by the City Council in regards to outdoor displays on the Boardwalk this week, but all the merchants might not welcome the change with open arms.
Stricter guidelines were set in place by the council in a 4-1-1 vote, Joe Hall in opposition and Margaret Pillas abstaining, stressing enforcement, prohibiting explicit content and limiting the quantity of outdoor displays on each merchant’s property.
Although the numbers and percentages can get a bit confusing as pertaining to what is allowable outside the Boardwalk businesses, the overall decision has been two years in the making and some think this change will make the Boardwalk a much fairer place to do business.
“We’ve been doing things the same way down there for years, and maybe this change will help things run in a much more efficient manner,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think these guidelines create the most level playing field we’ve ever had, and that’s what all the merchants said that they wanted throughout this whole process.”
Boardwalk Development Association President Vicki Barrett said that these guidelines were never meant to be overly prohibitive.
“We don’t want to see any Boardwalk merchant suffer, nor did we want to create a cookie cutter environment in which everything looks the same,” said Barrett, “but we did want to set rules that could be enforced in efforts to beautify the Boardwalk as a whole.”
The Boardwalk was split up into two enforceable zones, one being 3rd Street to the Inlet and north of 3rd Street.
The guidelines restrict not only the placement of the outdoor displays, but they also prohibit the display of any products that feature foul language, offensive adult materials, tobacco, alcohol or drugs.
In addition, the guidelines ask that all merchants turn their speakers inside the store, rather than out toward the Boardwalk in efforts to cut down noise.
“This gives them enough leeway but still gives them guidelines to follow, which will be posted and easily enforced,” said Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith, “but if there are no guidelines for what you can put outside your store, they will pile it up out there if you let them.”
Pillas, a Boardwalk storeowner, thought that the guidelines were too restrictive, and though she agreed with certain items, she was not convinced on the topic of enforcing the rules.
“I think we need to baby step on this issue as we’ve never been able to enforce it in the past,” said Pillas, “and I think that these rules take away some of the creativity from the displays of the products.”
Local Boardwalk merchant Lew Bush called the display guidelines “blatantly unfair” and pleaded for the council not to make it harder for the businesses to make money despite desiring a level playing field as well.
“Doing this is going to hurt the retailers, and after last year, we can’t take anything else that’s going to hurt our business,” he said.
Code enforcement officer Ray Schmidt will now patrol the Boardwalk at random times to ensure businesses are in compliance, and violations will come with severe fines and possible license revocations if found to be a repeat offender.
Still, the council wanted to move the matter forward and as with other issues, might be persuaded to amend the guidelines as it moves through to ordinance form.
“This is the best way to do it in my opinion,” said Meehan. “You make the same set of rules for everyone, and I believe they will work. Once people adapt to the changes, I think the Boardwalk will be a much better place.”