Council Okays 50-Year Lease With Art League

OCEAN CITY – Some City Council members were apprehensive this week over a 50-year lease with the Art League of Ocean City (ALOC) for its new arts center.

The ordinance on the table during Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council meeting was for the town to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and a 50-year lease agreement for the construction and rental of a new Ocean City Arts Center Building at the present site of the building utilized by the ALOC on 94th Street.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas wondered if a 50-year lease was normal for the town to become bonded to and suggested for it to be amended to a 10-year agreement.

“It seems strange that we should tie up 50 years,” she said. “You’re talking about somebody being born today and being 50 years old before this lease is up.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres pointed out that the town’s lease agreement with the senior center is also set at 50 years.

Councilman Doug Cymek asserted the ALOC is contributing $200,000 of its own funds toward the construction of the art center. There is also a clause included in the contract that if the building ceases to be used as an art facility it would revert back to the town for use.

“It is still our property,” he said. “I don’t see any reason at all that we shouldn’t do a similar lease to what we do for the senior center.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight reminded the council and public that the art center will also provide public meeting space, which according to the lease will be available for the next 50 years.

“I think the 50-year term puts the taxpayers at a complete disadvantage,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “I would rather see it be a 10-year, with a 10-year renewal every 10 years.”

Pillas also questioned the town’s responsibility to pay for the building’s water and wastewater bill.

“I would think that the people that are using the building should pay for the water and wastewater,” she said.

Council President Jim Hall said besides mixing water color paints and the use of bathrooms, how much more water can be used.

“I wouldn’t think that this is a heavy water use project,” he said. “It’s nonprofit, and to me that distinguishes it from others.”

Councilman Joe Hall recommended having all of the building’s costs documented to provide a transparent avenue for citizens to follow.

“It comes down to costs, and a lot of people have been advocating lately transparency and clarity,” he said. “We need to make sure all the p’s and q’s are counted and documented for somebody to go and look at them if that’s what they are interested in.”

Pillas concluded her list of concerns by pointing out that a cost estimate to demolish and build the building has yet to be provided.

“We are not going to tear down the building until we receive cost estimates,” Mayor Rick Meehan assured. “This lease will only take effect if in fact there is a building.”

The Mayor and City Counted voted 5-2, with Ashley and Pillas in opposition, to approve the new art center MOU and lease in first reading.

Another ordinance approved on first reading was an amendment to define unenclosed outdoor dining in order to clarify required parking for outdoor dining areas.

The ordinance lists requirements in an establishment measuring for the required parking space. The ordinance states, “Restaurants, fast food restaurant, cocktail lounge, tavern or nightclub or other establishments for the consumption of food or beverages on or off the premises: One space per 100 square feet of enclosed gross floor area, minimum of five spaces.”

The exemption applies only if a roofed-over area remains at least 51% open on all sides with no enclosure of any kind, and a railing system no higher than 42 inches with open pickets is not to be considered an enclosure. Establishments with non-conforming parking status may only exempt parking for outdoor dining areas equal to the number of parking spaces provided on-site at the rate of one space per 100 square feet of outdoor dining area.

The last ordinance also approved on first reading was to authorize the sale of surplus personal property, which is a list of city vehicles and equipment offered for sale on the auction site.

“We have had great success there [govdeals] and there is every indication that we are going to get a higher return moving in this direction,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.