North OC Parking Meter Study Derails Commission Proposal

OCEAN CITY — Councilman Joe Hall wanted to spark a conversation about creating a group to discuss the possibility of installing parking meters in uptown Ocean City on Tuesday, but the topic made the rest of the council seemingly uncomfortable and, as a result, uninterested.

Hall proposed the formation of a parking commission in order to conduct a study that would find out how much it costs the town of Ocean City to maintain and manage the current parking in town and to research the feasibility of perhaps adding new parking meters throughout town.

Despite the council voting against the formation of the commission per say (via a 4-2 vote), the council seemed to realize that the topic was not going to go away and members seemed to indicate that any discussion on parking needed to be in front of the full council rather than in front of a committee.

“The majority of paid parking is downtown, and I envision creating an advisory committee made up of community members, town staff and council members, which could provide guiding points about where we need to add or perhaps remove metered parking in the town,” said Hall.

Yet, it became apparent rather quickly that even the idea of setting in place a new fee for residents and visitors to the resort, was a topic that many on the council deemed a bit too hot to touch.

“I think that parking is a very sensitive and political situation, and I know it being here for 20-some years,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “I would ask [Joe Hall] respectfully to have our staff put together information to the full Mayor and Council rather than put together a commission that would be created.  If you have citizens coming in and putting in input and proposing new fee structures, that is going to create a political volley and we’ll have a mess.”

Council President Joe Mitrecic wasn’t totally against the idea of having a conversation about parking, conceding that future cuts in the current economic times, and the need to find new revenue streams makes the conversation all but inevitable, but he noted that the town staff was more than able to provide Hall the information he was seeking.

“I don’t disagree that we could or should do a snapshot of the existing and potential parking throughout town, but whatever a commission or committee would come to, the public is still going to come to this full council with complaints,” said Mitrecic. “Since we are the ones that are going to have to answer to the public, I think that the full council needs to be the ones doing the study or having the conversation.”

At first, Hall’s intentions for the proposed research committee seemed to lean toward the obvious installation of parking meters in the uptown areas of Ocean City, but he said that his desire was simply to get information and not add parking meters.

Mitrecic told The Dispatch on Thursday that in his opinion a vote to add parking meters to other areas in Ocean City would “probably be a split vote at best”, and queried why Hall would want to do the study if he doesn’t have the desire for the next course of action.

“There are some on the council who aren’t against the idea of putting parking meters uptown, and [Joe Hall] came on pretty strong at the beginning and then he just backed off and said he only wanted some information, which I think the staff could provide him,” said Mitrecic. “My thing is, why waste the staff’s time with snapshots if you don’t have any intention of doing anything about it?”

One councilman who was vocally opposed to any raise in parking fees was Councilman Jim Hall, who at times seemed to hammer Joe Hall with questions trying to figure out just what the councilman was trying to accomplish.

“I’m going to tell you right now, I’m not in favor of new parking meters, so if this is an assemblage of where to stick new parking meters, I’m not for this at all,” said Jim Hall. “I am in favor of talking about new revenue generators but not like this.”

Joe Hall further argued his point by pointing out an example near his midtown restaurant.

“In the area of where my restaurant is on 60th Street, for example, why wouldn’t that street fit into a metered Cale pay system,” queried Hall. “At my restaurant, I’ve got plenty of parking, but there are businesses in my area that are utilizing that street parking for their businesses and the town manages the streets. What’s the difference in the town not having meters on 60th Street, but having them on Dorchester Street?”

Councilman Lloyd Martin seemed to think that a change without thorough discussion with the public would be extremely detrimental to public trust.

“If it didn’t effect them, they probably wouldn’t care about parking meters, but a town wide sweep of adding new parking meters would effect almost everyone,” said Martin, “So, I agree with Jim Hall, you are going to have a melee down here with angry people.  It would be a madhouse.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said that he does agree that the topic is sure to come up some time in the near future as the town continues to navigate through the tough economy, but he noted that incremental additions might be more beneficial and that dedicating something that the new revenue would fund would more likely substantiate any changes to the public.

Still, as Margaret Pillas pointed out, the issue about parking and parking fees creates a very thin line for the council to walk.

“I can feel the anxiety up here about this parking issue,” said Pillas. “Since I got elected three and a half years ago, we’ve been saying that we are going to have a serious talk about it, and we never have. Maybe it’s time.”