City Still Hammering Out Boardwalk Display Rules

OCEAN CITY – The ongoing discussion to try to establish a fair set of outdoor display guidelines for Boardwalk merchants stretched far into the second hour on Tuesday before it was revealed that the Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) and the city’s Zoning Administrator were not on the same page with the recommendation.

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith has come before Mayor and Council on numerous occasions in the past few months proposing and petitioning changes and alterations to the new set of guidelines that may be laid out for Boardwalk merchants, concerning how much of their property can be used to display products outside their stores.

Despite numerous outcries from merchants, who think Smith’s 10-15-percent usage of the store’s total “pad” for outdoor display is too restrictive, Smith held firm, saying that anything more than 15 percent would be “just too much.”

Bruce Krasner, who owns several T-shirt shops on the Boardwalk, but also sits on the BDA and is in favor of the majority of the proposed ordinance, said the 15-percent rule would be too restrictive and thought that the 30-percent rule that sits currently was much more effective.

“[The outdoor displays] are just going to look way too sparse with these guidelines,” said Krasner. “I thought the function of this was to lessen displays a little bit, and make the entire Boardwalk more beautiful, but this seems like we are just scrutinizing the T-shirt shops.”

Despite many good points and counterpoints throughout the discussion, what many left City Hall with on Tuesday was the fact that the BDA and Smith were apparently not on the same page with their percentage recommendations, as BDA President Vicki Barrett said the existing 30 percent rule was, in her mind, the “level playing field that everyone wanted and the 10-15 percent rule was not actually discussed by the BDA.”

That comment didn’t sit well with Council President Joe Mitrecic as the conversation reached the 80th minute, saying, “we’ve wasted a lot of time here today, and I think that was a prudent bit of information that we could have used an hour ago.”

At any rate, all parties seem to agree that the overwhelmingly important issue in this discussion is enforcement of these new rules.

“If this is going to work, the vendors need to actually follow these guidelines and help us to make this work, as enforcement has always been the weak link here,” said Smith.

There was also some concern from Tony Russo, Jr,, whose family owns Tony’s Pizza and several commercial units on the Boardwalk. Russo feared that getting a permit to open and operate a Boardwalk business was going to be more difficult under these new rules.

However, a chorus of members from the BDA and the city dispelled that concern, saying that it would actually be “quicker and more cost efficient” under the new rules, according to Bob Givarz of the BDA.

Still some merchants, like the outspoken Lew Bush, said that since his arrival to the town of Ocean City, the outdoor display rules have put his businesses in a stranglehold.

“When I came here in 1966, you could use 100-percent of your pad as long as there was a fire lane open,” said Bush, “but over the years it has shrunk and shrunk down to 10-percent. It’s slowly being taken away from us and it’s just crazy.”

As with anything, change is often not met with open arms, and Mayor Rick Meehan noted that if the merchants are serious in wanting a “level playing field,” then they should seriously consider the proposal that is currently being debated.

“This is actually more liberal than what is in place today,” said Meehan. “We’ve been doing the same thing down there for 30 years, and the world is changing around us. Everyone knows that what is on the table is a good ordinance, and it’s time that we give it a shot.”

The council, in hopes of getting some set of guidelines in place for this summer, agreed to bring the issue back next week.

Still Mitrecic said that whatever decision is made, he realizes that not everyone is going to be happy.

“I hope that people remember that these guidelines are for outdoor displays, not for an outdoor store,” he said. “The whole idea is to get people to come inside.”