NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Council Votes 5-2 To Add Decorative Lights To St. Louis Ave.

OCEAN CITY – Decorative street lighting was approved Tuesday for the first reconstruction phase of St. Louis Ave.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

Last week a discussion over installing ornamental lighting along St. Louis Ave. began while the reconstruction is currently in its first phase from 17th to 10th streets. The project is being funded through bonds the city acquired last year to complete several capital projects.

St. Louis Ave. runs north and south in Ocean City and is a frequently used corridor on the western side of the island.

The second phase of the reconstruction project includes 10th to 4th streets and will begin next fall. The project will be competed in the third phase from 4th to North Division streets beginning in the fall of 2014.

The Mayor and City Council approved the project last April. At that time, 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 did include the installation of “empty conduits” for future ornamental street lighting similar to what is on Baltimore Ave.

At this week’s meeting, Public Works Director Hal Adkins clarified not only will there be no undergrounding of the overhead utility wires, a conduit structure will not be installed for the future system as well. Therefore, the wooden utility poles along St. Louis Ave. will be remaining for the life of the new street, which is at least 20 years.

Currently, the cobra-head street lighting along St. Louis Ave. is mounted on metal arms extended off the utility poles. The proposed ornamental lighting will be separate light poles from the utility poles.

The cost to install ornamental lighting in the first phase, which includes 30 light poles, is about $154,000. In an effort to assist the project, the Ocean City Development Association (OCDC) applied for a $150,000 grant through the Community Legacy Program and 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 will cover 50 percent of the first phase’s lighting cost, leaving $79,000 for the city to fund.

Last week council members expressed concerns, starting with the continuation of funding for decorative ornamental lighting throughout the later phases. The total cost for all three phases to include decorative light, which would be about 75 light poles, is approximately $390,000.

Adkins explained using the $75,000 from OCDC for the first phase that will leave city responsible for either $315,000 for all three phases if the OCDC is unable to gain additional grants or $215,000 if the OCDC is able to gain grant funding of about $50,000 for each phase. The OCDC intends to apply for $150,000 for each of the next two phases.

Councilman Joe Mitrecic has expressed concern over the lighting becoming a nuisance to adjacent property owners along the avenue. This week Adkins responded the proposed LED lights can be controlled away from adjoining private properties as needed.

Councilman Dennis Dare last week asked for Adkins and staff to further investigate alternatives within the project, such as heightening the face of the sidewalk to avoid cars from mounting the sidewalk and hitting the proposed light poles.

Adkins responded this week that the sidewalks included in the first phase fluctuate from five to eight inches in height, minimizing the chances a car could reach the surface of the sidewalk.

Dare also suggested placing the ornamental lights on the back line of the sidewalk as opposed to the street front. This week Adkins said placing the light poles toward the street front of the sidewalk allows them to be aligned with signs, fire hydrants and utility poles, maintaining a clear passage between such obstructions and the private properties.

Dare and Mayor Rick Meehan have advocated for eight-foot wide sidewalks but recognized the fact there is not enough funding, and the sidewalks will remain at five feet wide.

This week Adkins added that if the council would like to consider the expansion of the north/south sidewalks, which is the direction that receives the most foot traffic, then they may be interested in a brick paver strip behind the sidewalks on private property similar to other recent projects around town, which would require outreach to property owners.

Dare was in favor of approaching property owners to spark interest in installing brick pavers along the sidewalk at the city’s cost.

“It could enhance the walkability of St. Louis Ave, as well as enhance the entire community,” he said. “The project will enhance the corridor and promote redevelopment in the future … and street lights are one of the biggest things for public safety in making it a safe neighborhood … the council voted to include conduits for the street lighting so you all anticipated doing it sometime and we have a golden opportunity here to do it.”

Dare made a motion to approve the installation of decorative ornamental lighting in the first phase of the St. Louis Ave. project, utilizing the grant money from OCDC and surplus in bond money to pay for the remainder of $79,000.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the motion on the floor with Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas in opposition.

Ashley has questioned future funding and the direction to use surplus bond funds.

City Engineer Terry McGean explained the city is under budget by $1.65 million for the Boardwalk but after Hurricane Sandy repairs and lumber are needed for the Inlet and bayside boardwalk in the amount of $300,000. The city is expecting FEMA to reimburse the city 75 percent, leaving the city responsible for less than $100,000. This would result in the surplus of Boardwalk funds to be about $1.55 million.

“We have budgets coming up we don’t know of, next year we will have a restatement of our pension plans, so for me this is strictly discretionary spending,” Ashley said.

Pillas has also voiced her concern over funding the future phases and this week she added she was not in favor of creating more clutter along the corridor. She believes the decorative lighting will create less light than the current cobra-head lighting fixtures.