OCEAN CITY — The outdoor display guidelines are now officially the same for the entire Boardwalk, creating what town officials have been striving for and pushing to the point of redundancy: the level playing field for all merchants.
Prior to last summer, the Mayor and City Council passed new outdoor display guidelines for Boardwalk merchants, essentially putting a few restrictions on not only how much merchandise could be displayed just outside their shops, but also making the displays themselves a bit more aesthetically uniform.
What they neglected to do however, in the eyes of some of the merchants, was create the aforementioned level playing field by passing essentially two standards: one set of rules for north of 3rd Street and another set of rules for the shops south of 3rd Street.
Citing differences in the way the properties in the north and south sections of the Boardwalk operated based on the properties’ layout, the town had seemingly passed two rules that they thought would still create the same result, but, according to Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith, even the slightest differences in the rules, made for some substantial troubles when it came to enforcement of the new rules.
“We struggled with it this past summer because it’s not an exact science, but I think this year we will get off on a much better foot as far as planning and having some things to look for and we’ll make it even better next year,” Smith said.
What the town had been trying to achieve for years was a way to “clean up the Boardwalk’s image”, as stated by Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) President Vicki Barrett several months ago, without making the rules too restrictive for merchants to draw customers into their stores with clever displays of their products outdoors.
“In looking at the last two years of photographs on the Boardwalk. You can see what an enormous improvement has been made in just a short amount of time,” said Barrett on Tuesday in a short address to the Mayor and City Council. “There are no longer unprofessional signage, or a variety of A-frame sizes and appearance we’ve standardized a number of things, most notably, the use of the outdoor space, allowing only 30% of the pad for outdoor display.”
Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) Executive Director Glenn Irwin said that he was in support of the revisions on the Boardwalk and the parallel guidelines for off the Boardwalk shops, and the move to make the approval of the guidelines lie with his organization and that of the BDA.
“The OCDC supports revising this process to allow the OCDC (and specifically our Downtown Design Committee) to review and approve such outdoor display applications off the Boardwalk,” said Irwin. “Just like the BDA does on the Boardwalk applications, we would review the applications off the Boardwalk and located within the two design standard areas. The BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) would still review appeals to such decisions of the OCDC (as they do for BDA decisions, too).”
The council was pleased with the new changes, as well as how last season’s initial guidelines made the entire Boardwalk look.
“I think it was and is a great idea,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “It patrols your own backyard and cuts through a lot of the garbage and time wasted waiting for public hearings and all of that.”
Smith said that with the BDA and the OCDC’s help, the town has been able to establish a better working relationship with the vast majority of the merchants and “really helped us get this ordinance right for everyone. We still have a ways to go, but I think with these changes, and the ones from last year, we will be starting next season on the right foot.”
Barrett said that outdoor display applications are due on June 1, and the BDA will be providing assistance to any merchant who needs help getting through the application process.
“We will be meeting with applicants in late March individually, to help them in any way so we can get all the applications by June 1,” she said.
If the big picture of this ordinance created the level playing field that the town had desired for so long, the small print or underlying details of the ordinance helped to clean up a proverbial wart on the Boardwalk’s image over the last few years.
The ordinance now prohibits any crude language or explicit content from outdoor displays as well as any products that promote the usage of drugs, alcohol or firearms.
“Usually I get a number of complaints every year at my office at City Hall from residents or visitors who are appalled by the things they are seeing on the Boardwalk,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “This year I think I only got one, and when I returned that email explaining what we were doing and the steps we were taking to fix the situation, they replied back with a compliment.”
Meehan also noted that even though the changes were still in their infancy as far as efficiency and overall impact, he said that the change is long overdue.
“What you have done is what many people have been trying to do for years on the Boardwalk, and that is to unify everyone and get everyone doing the same things for the greater good,” the mayor said.