Paid Parking Expansion Proposed To Fund Projects

OCEAN CITY – Tough decisions will have to be made soon as Ocean City’s infrastructure concerns deepen and the Mayor and City Council reviews potential funding options including expanding paid parking throughout the resort.

City appointed and elected officials furthered their discussion on options in funding an Annual Street Improvement Program during this week’s meeting. City Engineer Terry McGean returned with responses to the council’s inquiries of raising existing parking rates and possibly expanding paid parking in all areas of town.

First, McGean addressed raising all existing parking rates in the downtown area, except for the Inlet parking lot, from $1 to $1.50 per hour. There will be no charge for parking Monday through Thursday during the off-season except for during special events. By raising the rate of existing paid parking, it would generate additional revenue up to $500,000.

The council voted to approve the increase in parking rates of existing paid parking except for the Inlet lot in a 4-2 vote with Council members Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas opposed.

“If we continue to raise the existing paid parking, which is mostly downtown and then say the rest of the town is hands off, you keep shifting more and more burden downtown without addressing the whole picture,” Joe Hall said.

Next McGean explained why he was not recommending an increase of the parking rate in the Inlet parking lot. He said the Inlet parking rates were last raised in 2010 and there was a reduction in demand at that lot after the rates were increased.

“We do think that decrease will ultimately go away, but we believe right now is not the time to raise parking rates in the Inlet parking lot,” he said.

On the other hand, McGean added that the control system in the inlet lot is on its last leg. He said the system can last through one more season but must be replaced. The total cost for the project is $400,000 and the council voted unanimously to begin the procurement process to replace it.

The last item McGean discussed was the option to expand paid parking in all directions on the island in order to generate the much needed funding for road paving. McGean broke the potential areas into four categories.

The first category was the Boardwalk area and potential paid areas inlcuded ocean block streets from 10th to 27th streets and Baltimore Ave. from 10th to 27th streets, numbered streets between Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues  from North Division to 10th streets and the east side of Philadelphia Ave from 1st to 27th streets. The total new revenue from these spaces is estimated at approximately $400,000 per year.

The second category is all ocean block streets north of 27th Street, which is a total of 3,300 potential paid parking spaces and total net new revenue estimated at $1.7 million per year.

The next category is “bayside business”, which is primarily west of Philadelphia Ave./Coastal Highway that are zoned commercial or mixed use and have existing primarily commercial development on the streets. This includes about 1,183 parking spaces and total net new revenue of $500,000 per year.

The last category McGean called “low hanging fruit” recognizing the extreme controversy surrounding additional paid parking throughout town and explained these areas could be the least controversial — the east side of Baltimore Ave. from 2nd to 3rd streets and 7th to 8th streets, the west side of Baltimore Ave. from 15th to 17th streets, the ocean block of 49th street, and bayside mid-block 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 22nd, 23rd, 29th, 31st, 32nd, 44th Street area of Seacrets, 60th and 61st streets area of Fager’s Island and 131st Street between JR’s Ribs and the Crab Bag. This category represents about 346 spaces and total net new revenue estimated at $100,000.

“To get back to where this all came about was our paving program to let you know where we are at, the shortfall we are looking at, and why we are even talking about this,” McGean said.

In past discussions, Public Works Director Hal Adkins explained the big picture includes all Ocean City road repairs, including storm water management, which would cost around $41 million to complete. He returned to the council saying that allocating $3 million a year over the next 10 years, and $1 million a year thereafter would have Ocean City caught up in paving its streets.

“It’s a big number and I am not here to scare you with it, but I am trying to explain that if you have a home with a driveway think about what the cost is to rebuild or repave that driveway … now come across the Route 90 bridge and look at the panoramic view. That is my driveway and that is where your $41 million is,” Adkins said this week. “For years, we have invested very little … I have got to escalate that process or you will have a looming problem.”

Other funding sources include Ocean City’s share of casino revenue and highway user funds and existing paid parking revenue, which all together equals about $1 million, or going to the bond market.

Council President Jim Hall recognized that it was a lot of information to take in and suggested the council digest what was said while moving closer to budget discussions.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Jim Hall said. “Whatever we do with the roads, the water and the sewer pipes, we are going to have to do and we are going to have to find it within our means. The real gist to this is do you want to put parking meters on every street in Ocean City, or on some of the streets, side streets, back streets, whatever?”

He continued to say that he has always been and still is opposed to additional parking meters in Ocean City.

“I think when you come on a side street that you are used to parking on for the last 15 years and all of a sudden there is a parking meter on every spot down that street, that says ‘you are not welcome to Ocean City’,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Knight agreed and pointed out visitors who want to park in premium parking expect to pay for it but if they choose to walks blocks to the Boardwalk they should not have to pay.

“If I want to be right next to Thrashers, I am going to pay the extra for that premium parking … I am not sure it is the solution to arbitrarily raise every single parking meter and give that very unwelcoming feeling to the tourists,” she said.

Councilman Joe Hall was not satisfied and looked for the council to make some kind of commitment.

“I think part of this picture is storm water management and that is a big number,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to repair the roads if you are not going to address the piping underneath the road. It is a big number and it is a challenging year but we can’t put it off any longer.”