Council Grants Limited Beach Cabanas

OCEAN CITY — You are likely to see a few cabanas as part of the usual panoramic beach view in Ocean City next summer, as City Council voted to allow beach stand operators to spice up their inventory in providing ways of renting shade to beachgoers.

As a result, umbrellas will not be the only things on the beach creating shade next summer, as the council voted unanimously to grant a request from a beach stand owner to offer beach cabanas to visitors next summer.

“People’s habits are changing on the beach, and I think this is just a kind of modernization of the umbrella that you are seeing in a lot of other world class resorts,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “I think that these would be much less dangerous than a flying umbrella.”

Despite a letter of concern from Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin, who thought that beach cabanas would block lifeguard’s view of the beach and those they are hired to protect, the council was willing to take a chance in order to provide beach stand operators a new revenue source.

“I spoke with Captain Arbin on Thanksgiving night and he was adamantly opposed to having these cabanas on the beach,” said Councilman Doug Cymek. “He thinks that these will only create a new set of problems for the beach patrol.”

Council President Joe Mitrecic said the council didn’t ignore Arbin’s concerns, but rather, looked at the big picture.

“Butch [Arbin] looks at things solely from the beach patrol’s perspective, and he’s the absolute best at what he does,” said Mitrecic, “but it is getting harder for the beach stand operators to make a living every year out there, and sometimes, we have to be a bit outside the box and give some new things a try for the visitors and the business community.”

Essentially, the council voted to allow five cabanas per block and will only allow the smaller of the two proposed cabanas, meaning those permitted will only be allowed to be 59 inches wide by 44 inches high and 48 inches in depth.

Some council members said that these cabanas would be no different than when people lay umbrellas on their sides to block the wind or flying sand on blustery days. Yet, despite allowing these cabanas, council seemed concerned with making sure that there were a few regulations that would go along with the new amenity on the shoreline.

Councilwoman Mary Knight thought that the cabanas could provide more protection than simple umbrellas and would eliminate “tent cities” or clustering of several umbrellas in one area, thus blocking views from beachgoers behind those clusters.

In addition, the council will only allow beach cabanas to be placed behind the western most point of the lifeguard stand, in order to provide full view for lifeguards.

Beach stand operator Jonathan Layton brought the proposal to the beach mediation board in recent months and hoped that council would grant the beach franchises with a product that isn’t currently sold in retail stores.

“If we are able to rent these cabanas, we will be renting something they can only get from beach renters, and they are an ideal way to extend a seasonal operation,” said Layton.

Arbin’s concerns, however, seemed to point to the fact that shade created by the cabanas would limit the “360-degree view” of his lifeguards.

“On windy days when umbrellas are placed on their side, we see a huge decline in beach population, and we enforce the ordinance that keeps the umbrellas from obstructing the view of the water when necessary,” read Arbin’s letter to council. “In contrast, these cabanas would create a visual barrier on 100% of the days…I’m not against granting permission for additional types of rental equipment, but this particular piece would introduce a new challenge to the duties of our surf rescue technicians.”

The council believes it addressed Arbin’s concerns by only allowing the cabanas to be placed behind the lifeguard stand.

“If you go to other beaches in the country, they have these things everywhere, and frankly, I’m not sure why we haven’t had them before,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.