Council OKs Voluntary Design Guidelines

OCEAN CITY — The City Council approved an ordinance this week that would add non-binding design guidelines to the site plan approval process for new development in the resort, but not before amending the code change to define just where they would apply.

In an effort to gain some conformity for new development in the resort, Ocean City officials on Monday approved an ordinance including suggested uniform design standards during the site plan review process. According to the ordinance, the guidelines do not constitute absolute rules and regulations, but are meant to convey the town’s desire for quality appearance and set forth desired design elements during the site plan review process.

The ordinance as written would apply in all areas in the corporate limits of Ocean City excluding those areas already subject to the Downtown Overlay Zone and the Upper Downtown Overlay Zone, which already have design standards in the town’s code. The design guidelines cover only the architectural design and appearance of buildings. According to the ordinance, other regulations, such as permitted uses, density, bulk, parking, landscaping and signs, for example, would supersede the design guidelines ordinance.

The intent of the ordinance is to gain some measure of consistency with new development and the guidelines cover a variety of design features for new development including, for example, building height, architectural style, roof style, architectural massing, finishing materials, landscaping, windows and doors and even siding materials. According to the ordinance, “in a neighborhood where visual character is clearly defined, that character should be respected.”

The original ordinance did not cover the development of new single-family residences in the defined areas, but Mayor Rick Meehan suggested the language be altered to reflect the addition of areas where single-family homes are being developed in Ocean City. Meehan suggested adding the resort’s R-1 single family residential district and mobile home residential district to the areas targeted for design standard reviews.

“Should this say single-family homes, or R-1 and MH?” Meehan asked staffers. “All of our single-family homes are in the R-1 or MH zones.”

However, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said applying suggested design standards to single-family homes took the ordinance beyond its intent.

“I think we’re going too far with this,” she said. “I don’t think we want to be so invasive that we tell people your fence has to look like your neighbor’s, or you have to have a dormer or your door has to be certain color.”

After considerable debate, the council approved the ordinance by a 5-2 vote with Pillas and Councilman Joe Hall opposed.