Boardwalk Guidelines Tweaked

OCEAN CITY – The City Council approved on Tuesday amendments to existing display and signage ordinance on the Boardwalk.

At this week’s Mayor and City Council work session, approval to extend review of display and signage for the entire Boardwalk, as well as, amend the existing ordinance on regulations for display and signage by merchants was requested by the Boardwalk Development Association (BDA).

Vikki Barrett represented the BDA and began by reviewing the success of the existing ordinance.

“The Boardwalk is our biggest asset along with the beach and, of course, we want it to do its very best,” she said. “We want merchants to have the best year they could have, that’s the goal, and to make it a safe and clean Boardwalk.”

The BDA believes recent ordinance changes have been successful along the promenade.

“The success lies in several of the ordinance recommendations,” Barrett said. “One was to increase the amenities on the Boardwalk, the merchants were allowed to have more space if they would consider using seating or flowers and plants. I think as you walk on the Boardwalk you can see that this has been utilized a great deal.”

In giving the merchants more space to display and advertise their merchandise, there were certain regulations to come along with that. The BDA thinks there are several benefits in doing that.

“Now there is a level playing field for all of the merchants on the Boardwalk in terms of what is expected,” she said. “The displays are well organized, they are kept neatly, and there is not too much merchandise. Everyone has the same set of rules to play by.”

Although the existing ordinance has been an overall success, the BDA feels that some things have “slipped through the cracks”.

Subsequently, a list of changes was presented in hopes to eliminate any confusion or non-compliance with the existing regulations.

A few of the amendments brought up a lengthy discussion. For instance, outdoor window display of merchandise is not to exceed one and a half square feet of linear store frontage. Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who owns a store on the Boardwalk, felt this amendment would cause some concern.

“Its another place for people to see our display, that’s why the window is there,” Pillas said. “I know the window is valuable to a lot of people to display their merchandise.”

Barrett said the problem often lies in new buildings.

“In the original ordinance, it says an architectural feature cannot be covered up,” Barrett said. “What we’re seeing now is in some newly constructed buildings, which have beautiful architectural features, things are being wrapped around them, taking away from the architecture of the building…some of the windows are just over crowded.”

Pillas responded strongly that it is not a good idea to restrict merchants in their use of window space.

“I think you’re going to get a backlash from this because windows are essential,” she said. “I feel strongly that people who have windows should be able to use them because it’s not out in display area, it’s in their actual store.”

Another amendment that received attention is an outdoor display shall not be located in landscaped areas. Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that this would cause some discrepancy among the merchants.

“They are a little bit in a different situation because other than having the concrete pad or the Boardwalk they have a grass area which is in many ways kind of nice,” he said. “I’m not so sure they should be totally removed from the accessibility to the outdoor display that others have. It does seem to be a bit restrictive.”

Some council members felt that the BDA might have been jumping the gun by making amendments to an ordinance that has not been enforced.

Councilman Joe Hall was first to stand in line on that notion.

“To have things in an ordinance but not have them enforced clearly comes down to a funding issue,” he said. “To have lack of compliance on the existing ordinance and then say we need to have some more regulations on top of it, and to not address the enforcement side first, we may be ahead of ourselves … if we’re going to increase all these things, we’re going to need to enforce it.”

The BDA believes hiring more inspectors will address the enforcement issue.

“It would seem that a designated person for the Boardwalk for a number of hours a week at flexible times would be a huge asset to control,” Barrett said.

Hiring an inspector and how he/she may be paid was brought to discussion. One thought was to have the Boardwalk’s businesses pay for an enforcer through the revenue of their business licenses. Another was to use the revenue raised by permits to display on the Boardwalk by increasing the fees.

In addition to amending the existing ordinance, the BDA brought forward the notion to extend their review to the entire boardwalk including south of 3rd street, as well as restaurants, not just merchants.

“I think by reviewing south of 3rd Street would eliminate some of the concerns the tourists have had in terms of cleanliness,” Barrett said.

In the end, the amendments concerning windows and landscaped areas were excluded from the list. The remaining changes were endorsed by the Mayor and City Council in a 6-1 vote and remanded to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.