Council Seeks Changes To Boardwalk Display Amendments

OCEAN CITY – The Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) returned to the Mayor and City Council this week to bring forward the favorable recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission over amendments that the council decided will once again need to be edited.

The BDA came back to the Mayor and City Council with its list of nine amendments to the Boardwalk Outdoor Display of Merchandise Standards after a public hearing held with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“At the public hearing, there was public comments and I believe those pertained to the issue of restaurants and hotels more so than the outdoor display of merchandise,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said.

Smith said once the commission heard the public concerns, it went ahead with a favorable recommendation to forward the amendments back to the Mayor and City Council.

Out of the nine amendments, there were a few the council questioned, such as three items that seemed to discriminate against the smaller, narrower stores south of Third Street.

The three items pertain to how framed merchandise is to be treated, as outdoor display, not signage, and the total amount of wall merchandise may not exceed 30 percent of exterior walls, if the merchant does not utilize the incentive amenity package for display, then the requirement reverts back to 30 percent of the setback from the face of the building, and the square footage of amenity displays is considered part of outdoor display and counts toward the display square footage allowed.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas felt that the language on those three amendments needed to be changed so that the stores south of 3rd Street do not have to follow the same restrictions as the larger stores north of 3rd Street.

Smith said he and the BDA would look at the language more in detail before first reading of the amended ordinance.

Other language barriers surfaced in the restrictions that restaurants and hotels would have to follow along with retail stores, in order to level the playing field.

This problem came in the amendment that states restaurants and hotels will follow the outdoor display guidelines where applicable such as no handwritten signs, nothing hanging on the benches, railings or fences and one A-frame sign for every 25 feet of Boardwalk frontage.

Smith said the one thing included in this amendment that he thinks restaurants and hotels with have to become adjusted to is the one A-frame sign per every 25 feet.

“I think the safety and the convenience of the people on the Boardwalk, not to have an obstacle course is a fair assessment,” Smith said. “That they have the same allowance sign allocation as other businesses do.”

During the last Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, George McGrory testified to the inconvenience this amendment will have upon his two Boardwalk businesses, one being Julies Ice Cream.

Smith explained that part of McGrory’s concerns was over the handwritten signs portion of the amendment. He testified that he depends on his signs for his daily specials.

“If he changes daily specials, they will have to be handwritten,” Councilwoman Mary Knight said.

Smith explained that the concern over handwritten signs originated with retail stores.

“If you discourage but not prohibit handwritten signs wouldn’t the violation ultimately come back to you [Smith] to determine,” asked Councilman Brent Ashley.

Smith explained that the BDA would make the recommendation of citation to him and he would determine whether or not the appropriateness of the sign is in violation.

Smith and the council concluded that the portion of the amendments including handwritten signs would also have to be reworded before first reading as well.

“Just be careful that we don’t go back, the BDA is trying to clean up the Boardwalk,” Council President Jim Hall said. “Let’s just try to do it carefully and get it right.”

Another item that Smith brought forward pertained to the amplification of music coming from the outdoor confinements of restaurants.

“At this point, I don’t think it has been an issue,” Smith said.

Knight made the motion to remove outdoor amplification restrictions from restaurants and hotels. Councilman Lloyd Martin seconded the motion and it passed in a unanimous vote.

The last item Smith motioned was the recommendation from the BDA and Planning and Zoning Commission to hire a part-time employee to enforce the ordinance. The council displayed a range of diverse opinions on the idea.

Ashley pointed out that in 2010 the town collected around $16,000 in outdoor display fees and asserted that revenue could be used toward hiring additional enforcement.

City Manager Dennis Dare said that revenue already goes into the general fund and supports current costs.

“I think the BDA is doing a great job,” Martin said. “And they’re doing that for free…I already think you have the person [BDA] you’re looking for.”

Councilman Joe Hall said he wasn’t comfortable voting for additional enforcement until a clear plan on what revenue will fund the part-time employee is brought forward.

“To say that some committee is going to do it for us out of the goodness of their hearts is not right,” he said. “It is a paid position, somebody that has authority to go down there and say this is a violation and here’s your ticket.”

Knight didn’t understand how a few of her council members were favorable toward hiring additional enforcement when there is already vacant jobs that need to be filled in town.

“As I sit here and I hear people on the council wanting to hire somebody at a part-time position and these are the same people who voted against hiring a records person at our police department,” she said. “To me you got to start looking at what is important.”

Councilman Doug Cymek said that he didn’t believe the enforcement can be done without hiring additional enforcement.

“Revenue is going to come from citations,” he said. “It won’t happen without revenue.”

The council decided to put the issue over hiring part-time enforcement to carry out the Boardwalk outdoor display standards on hold until first reading.

The list of amendments passed to first reading in a motion made by Martin and the council voted unanimously.