OC Council Debates St. Louis Ave. Lighting

OCEAN CITY – Placing ornamental lighting on St. Louis Ave. remains in question this week as city staff is directed to review other alternatives in the height of sidewalks and positioning of light posts.

St. Louis Ave. is currently in the first phase of reconstruction from 17th to 10th streets with completion targeted for the end of May. The second phase includes 10th to 4th streets and is scheduled to begin next fall. The third phase will follow in fall of 2014 and will complete the project from 4th to North Division streets.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins reminded the council that when the design of St. Louis Ave. was discussed last April it was made clear that funding was not available for the wiring or lights but in an effort to avoid disturbance to the roadway at a later date the design does include the installation of “empty conduits” for future ornamental street lighting similar to what is on Baltimore Ave.

The Ocean City Development Association (OCDC), in an effort to assist, recently applied for a $150,000 grant through the Community Legacy Program, which would be the cost to install the first phase of ornamental lighting.

OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin has received a notice of intent to be awarded $50,000 and tentative approval to reassign $25,000 of a historical Small Business Assistance Grant.

The grant funding would cover 50 percent of the first phase’s lighting cost, leaving $79,000 for the city to fund. In discussions with Budget Manager Jenny Knapp over excess funds thus far from capital projects, Adkins felt that it wouldn’t be difficult to cover that amount.

Adkins reminded the council there would be two other phases of lighting that would need to be funded to complete the project and there will be some maintenance costs.

Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out the ornamental lights installed on Baltimore Ave. match well with the commercial entity as the lights hang at a low level.

“St. Louis is more of a residential area and I am concerned those lights will be shining into the windows along there … this is more of a decorative nuisance to the homeowners adjacent to them,” he said.

Mitrecic added that even if the OCDC does find grants for future phases the city would still be on the hook for $225,000 in lighting costs.

Mayor Rick Meehan has always been an advocate for installing eight-foot wide sidewalks but recognized the funding is not available to do so, and that wide of a sidewalk would either have to happen now or in 20 years when the road starts to wear out again.

“This is a great idea because in many ways it creates more of a residential component to the St. Louis area, which can be daunting sometimes,” the mayor said. “But we do face some obstacles, one is the width of the sidewalk, and secondly what Councilman Mitrecic brought up as far as the glare, which I think you can probably address. This is a tough one … I also have confidence OCDC will be applying for those funds into the future.”

Councilman Dennis Dare also wanted to see eight-foot sidewalks but knowing that wasn’t going to happen he addressed the height of the sidewalks instead. According to Dare, eight to nine inches in height was the standard for sidewalks but most of the sidewalks along St. Louis reach two to three inches.

Heightening the sidewalks would benefit in a couple of ways, such as the elevation of the ornamental lights and cars cannot mount the curb at that height, according to Dare.

“I don’t know with the decisions that have been made putting decorative lights is the thing to do at this point in time,” he said. “However, when you have somebody willing to pay 50 cents on the dollar I think it would be wise to take advantage of that as far as taxpayers go and the residents of St. Louis Ave. I just wish the sidewalks were being addressed as well as the street so that it would be more of a finalized and finished installation.”

Dare made a motion to have staff re-evaluate the sidewalk code in height to at least eight inches, which could only involve where the pavement meets the current sidewalks not the reconstruction of the sidewalks. As well as, review if the placement of light posts would be better off on the backside of the sidewalk or on the curb.

Dare said if those items become favorable he would be willing to move forward with ornamental lighting on as long the city’s funding comes from excess bond proceeds for capital projects, not the general fund.

City Engineer Terry McGean said the Boardwalk reconstruction project, which was also included in the bond issuance along with St. Louis Ave., is $1,650,000 under budget at this time.

Adkins said he could have the responses to the motion by next week’s Mayor and City Council regular session on Tuesday evening. The council voted 6-1 to approve Dare’s motion with Councilwoman Margaret Pillas in opposition.

Pillas said at this point she is not able to vote regarding ornamental lighting because not knowing what the budget will look like in the fiscal year 2014, she has concerns over the ongoing costs to install the lights in the other phases.