Ocean City’s Critical Area Law Tweaked

OCEAN CITY – To comply with state law, the town’s Critical Area ordinance regarding the redevelopment of a property was tweaked this week.

City Engineer Terry McGean asked the Mayor and City Council to draft an amendment to the town’s Critical Areas ordinance to reflect a couple of changes, including to codify the current staffs interpretation that allows redevelopment projects disturbing less than 50 percent of the parcel to maintain existing encroachments into the critical areas setback and codify the enforcement language required under Maryland State Law 2008 House Bill 1253 as incorporated into Natural Resources Article 18.

According to McGean, the state Critical Area law regulates development activity within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake and the coastal bays. The state law contains provisions that must be adopted by local government. Ocean City adopted its first Coastal Bays Critical Area ordinance in 2003, made modifications in 2010, changing some of the ways the town permitted development activities.

“If you are developing less than 50 percent of your site than you can keep you existing nonconformities that are in the setback,” he said. “The critical area has for instance for a one-acre property has a requirement of a 25-foot setback off the water, and what we’re saying is if you have an existing property and you are redeveloping less than 50 percent of the site of that property and you have current encroachments in that 25-foot setback you can keep those current encroachments, you cannot make it worse.”

McGean’s requests were approved by the council unanimously.

The ordinance currently states that all development and redevelopment activity that disturbs less than 50 percent of the parcel may maintain the setback as defined by existing structures. Further development and redevelopment activity that increases the cumulative disturbed area to an amount greater than 50 percent of the parcel shall comply with the following setbacks regardless of pre-existing nonconforming setbacks.

As of June 2002, structures on lots smaller than 15,000 square feet cannot be located any closer than 10 feet to tidal waters or wetlands. However, in the R-1 Single Family Residential zoning district the waterfront setback can be no less than 15 feet, and in the MH Mobile Home zoning district the waterfront setback can be no less than five feet. The waterfront setback is measured from the landward face of a bulkhead or rip-rap, the mean high water line, or the wetland line, whichever is more restrictive.