Performers Banned From North Division Street

OCEAN CITY – Street performers are officially banned from North Division Street and the Boardwalk, as the Mayor and Council moved its decision into law through an emergency ordinance.

The town and the buskers have been battling it out on where, when and how the performers can perform for some time now. The original ordinance to regulate street performers was proposed in March. The most prevalent rule placed was to remove performers from North Division Street due to the street providing emergency access to the beach and the Boardwalk. The ordinance passed first reading but never any further.

In the meantime, buskers have been in protest, fighting for their right. The leading voice of the protest is spray paint artist Mark Chase as he and others set up their performing areas on North Division Street over Memorial Day weekend and the weeks leading up to it despite the town’s proposed ordinance. The situation had reached a stand still when the police department was instructed to stand down on enforcing and regulations on street performers over Memorial Day weekend.

Fire Chief Chris Larmore approached the Mayor and City Council this week to express the fire department’s concerns including the egress situation created by fire and safety apparatus and the potential hazard that would be created should the need arise for emergency services on the Boardwalk.

“That [North Division Street] is our main egress exit from an emergency stand point to the Boardwalk,” Laramore said. “It is the only street end that provides an entrance and exit … that is our means to access the concrete portion of the Boardwalk for emergencies south of North Division Street, unlike any other street end.”

He explained that Dorchester Street is the only other south street that enables the department to move large equipment on and off of the concrete portion of the Boardwalk but it is unrealistic because it is narrow and a one-way street.

“That is not normal means of egress to the Boardwalk because if it gets blocked or if you have to back up it makes it much more difficult,” Laramore said. “So by and large the majority of all emergencies that would occur on the Boardwalk … our standard operating procedures are to access the Boardwalk through North Division Street and that procedure has been here as long as I can remember.”

He added that public safety has had problems entering and exiting the Boardwalk at North Division Street in the past because of large groups of people that had gathered to observe performers in that area.

“I think it would be a fair compromise … if we can keep North Division Street and that would be from Tony’s Pizza to the Five and Dime store, perpendicular out to the beach, to restrict any activity in that area,” Laramore requested.

The council voted unanimously to approve the fire department’s request to eliminate North Division Street from available areas that street performers can set up. It was also passed to move the law into an emergency ordinance to set it in stone for this summer season.

On Wednesday, City Clerk Kathy Mathias explained that the original ordinance proposed passed on first reading but it involved many other changes on regulations involving street performers, not just the removal of North Division Street. That ordinance was withdrawn. Now City Solicitor Guy Ayres has drafted a new ordinance that only includes the elimination of North Division Street as an area buskers can perform.

“It’s only one street that’s being eliminated and the reasons are for public safety,” she said. “The city can control the time, place and manner of street performers and the public safety issue is part of it and certainly eliminating one street is not infringing on their rights, they have many other streets to go to.”

If street performer continues to protest, Ocean City Police Public Affairs Specialist Jessica Waters explained officers will enforce the new ordinance just like they do any other law.

“Our duty and responsibility is to make sure that the laws and ordinances are abided by so if someone is in violation we will take appropriate action, whatever that violation may be we will enforce properly,” she said. “That’s a safety concern … the Mayor and City Council is the ones who make the legislation and we’re the ones who make sure that people are abiding by those laws and regulations and we will continue to do that just like any other ordinance.”

Other concerns expressed over the street performers are some of the equipment used during their performances. For example Chase uses a gas generator and electrical cords to conduct his spray paint art.

Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal Sam Villani explained that during his observation there were no fire code or life safety violations noted but did recommend the halogen flood lights and Honda generator be made less accessible to the public because they both get hot and pose a potential burn hazard.

“I think times have changed and we don’t need generators at all on the Boardwalk,” Villani said. “If you’re going to have some type of engine you should have fixed electrical service that way you don’t have a problem of cords or creating a shock from the generator.”

The council decided to schedule the matter concerning street performer equipment for a future work session.