Council Still Not Swayed By Paid Parking Critics; OC Might Hire Consultant To Evaluate Parking Issues

OCEAN CITY – The plan to add paid parking on 146th Street and other areas of Ocean City proceeded this week, despite the continuous efforts of property owners to reverse the council’s decision. However, a compromise was made to have city staff study the issue further to pursue a parking feasibility study in the future.

At the beginning of this week’s Mayor and City Council meeting, Ocean Place Condominium Association President Mac Balkcom and condominium owner Michael Feen addressed the legislative body over the continuous concerns associated with the town installing paid parking on 146th Street.  

During a budget wrap-up session last month, the Mayor and City Council voted to install new paid parking to select streets in town to bring in alternative revenues to help close a budget gap and lower the proposed tax rate. Since then Ocean Place owners have attended Mayor and City Council meetings every week and have sent countless emails airing their grievances with the decision.

Ocean Place sits on a full ocean block between 145th and 146th streets, and each condo is allocated one to two parking spaces in the building’s parking lot depending on the unit’s number of bedrooms.

The council has reasoned, with the street being on the state line and the north row of parking already paid parking operated by Fenwick Island, Ocean City is missing out on potential revenue when the south side of the street fills up first with Fenwick Island visitors and out-of-state day trippers who choose to park for free. Also, there is free parking one street over on 145th Street for Ocean Place visitors to use instead, the council has countered when faced with opposition.

On Monday evening, Feen distributed a summary of concerns outlined by the Ocean Place Board of Directors President Ron Deacon, who was absent during the meeting.

Ocean Place has requested the council reverse the plan to implement paid parking on 146th Street because it discriminates against a specific group of taxpayers and residents of Ocean City.

Ocean Place owners have argued 146th Street offers 40 parking spaces compared to 60-plus spaces on other ocean block streets, and there are other streets in Ocean City with residences on only one side and commercial or empty lots on the other, yet those streets were not chosen.

Deacon furthered Ocean Place residents and visitors are not the only patrons to use 146th Street for parking. Econolodge, which also sits between 145th and 146th streets on Coastal Hwy., sends their guests and employees to that area to park when the hotel’s own lot becomes full. Once the paid parking is installed, patrons will have to pay $25.50 to park there from 7 a.m. to midnight per day.

“For 30-plus years, we have managed our parking situation with the help of available spaces on 145th and 146th.  Some of our residents must park on 145th or 146th because there are not sufficient spaces in our lot. There may be empty spaces but they can only be used for the unit they correspond to,” Deacon said.

Deacon asserted the council’s decision was based on assumptions, not supported by facts and hard data and therefore incorrect. He had asked City Clerk Kelly Allmond to send him a cost benefit analysis and criteria used to select streets for paid parking, and received projected revenue numbers but not an analysis of alternatives, leading to his assumption there is none.

Throughout the entire process, the condominium building’s largest grievance with the council was the decision was made without consulting with Ocean Place condo owners first and felt it was not a transparent decision.

According to Deacon, the owners understand the city’s need for revenue and believe there are ways of obtaining revenue through paid parking without treating residents unfairly. He asked the council to convene a committee to study potential parking in a rational and comprehensive way, setting criteria for measuring success in both the amount of revenue collected and fairness, to come up with a master plan for parking in Ocean City.

“What I would like to propose before you go ahead with the imposition of paid parking on any streets is that a committee is formed and that they come up with a master plan and substantial way forward that includes the people, and include the stakeholders that you see,” Feen said.

Off the bat, Councilman Brent Ashley made a motion to have Mayor Rick Meehan form a parking committee while the city has a parking feasibility study and a cross benefit analysis conducted to create a master plan for parking in Ocean City.

“This is just the beginning, and to keep bothering people and get everybody upset, I just don’t see it,” Ashley said.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas acknowledged the subject of paid parking has always been a hot topic in Ocean City, but the proposal to conduct a study is a costly proposition.

Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out if the council’s decision to install paid parking on the proposed streets is postponed that will be at least a $115,000 hole in the fiscal year 2014 budget, which was up for first reading later on the agenda that evening. Meters at 146th St. alone will bring an estimated $24,000 in new revenue.

“The cost analysis and the feasibility and everything these gentleman are asking for doesn’t come out of a committee,” Mitrecic said. “It comes out of a parking study done by an independent contractor that somebody has to pay.”

According to Councilman Dennis Dare, the former city manager, the city pays $4 million a year for Ocean City’s beach between replenishment, beach patrol and maintenance.

“That is $4 million that 30,000 taxpayers pay … but meanwhile everybody that lives across the bridges doesn’t pay Ocean City taxes, comes into the town and uses the beach for free,” Dare said. “The parking meters are a way for them to participate in what they’re enjoying.”

Dare added 146th Street was not being singled out as 49th Street was also chosen to have paid parking and has similar characteristics, such as both have paid parking to the north and both streets have residential development to the south with required parking.

“This is an issue that has come up far too many times … it goes further than just a committee,” Mayor Rick Meehan interjected. “My suggestion would be to remand this to the city manager, have him meet with the staff … and figure out exactly what it is we need to do.”

Meehan added if City Manager David Recor’s recommendation is to proceed to hire a consultant over the matter than the city would begin a RFP process at that time.

Ashley agreed with the mayor’s compromise and withdrew his motion to form a parking committee. He made a motion to remand the issue to Recor and the council voted unanimously to approve.

Later in the evening an ordinance approached the Mayor and City Council to establish paid parking on the east side of the Public Safety Building parking lot between 65th and 66th streets from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Monday through Friday, except for holidays and all Saturdays and Sundays. The ordinance also added meters to the City Hall parking lot from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Monday through Friday, except on holidays and all Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, the meters will be added from 7 a.m. until midnight on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue between North Division and South 1st streets, 49th Street on the ocean block, 131st Street between Coastal Hwy. and Sinepuxent Ave. and 146th Street on the ocean block.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the ordinance on first reading with Ashley and Pillas opposed.