Council Moves Ahead With Paid Parking Areas; Mayor’s Compromise Rejected

OCEAN CITY – Despite a compromise proposed by Mayor Rick Meehan and concerns from residents and two other elected officials, the City Council majority have approved new paid parking areas for this summer.

An ordinance authorizing additional paid parking in certain areas came before the Mayor and City Council this week for its final passage. New locations include the east side of the driveway in the Public Safety Building parking lot between 65th and 66th streets, from 5 p.m.-7 a.m. on Monday-Friday, except for holidays, and all day Saturday and Sunday; City Hall parking lot, from 5 p.m.-7 a.m. on Monday-Friday, except for holidays, and all day Saturday and Sunday; on the west side of Philadelphia Ave. from 7 a.m. until midnight between N. Division St. and South First St.; 49th Street ocean block; 131st Street from Coastal Hwy. to Sinepuxent Ave.; and 146th St. ocean block.

“I have voted against this proposal from the beginning,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “Adding more expense for the visitors that come to Ocean City with more parking meters would seem to be counterproductive to the promotion of tourism when we can least afford to lose even one visitor.”

Meehan submitted a suggestion to the council prior to that evening’s meeting hoping to make a compromise. Meehan pointed out in 2011 the city improved 146th Street and added 16 new parking spaces. He recommended the 16 spaces that are closest to the beach be metered, leaving the rest free for the troubled condominium owners to take advantage of.

On 131st Street between the two restaurants located there, the owner of JR’s House of Ribs had requested for paid parking on the street to help increase business turnover. The mayor recommended the spaces that are contiguous to JR’s property be metered from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. daily, leaving the nine parking spaces contiguous to Crab Bag, who is not in favor of paid parking, be left as free parking

On the west side of Philadelphia Ave south of Division Street, Meehan suggested to treat the area the same as the city has done with other streets in the downtown commercial area, and allow property owners with spaces contiguous to their property to request to have those spaces remain as free parking.

The difference in potential revenue on 146th Street would be less $12,800, on 131st Street $5,850 less, and with two property owners on the west side of Philadelphia Ave. who have already requested not to have paid parking would result in $4,550 less, which is a net total of a $23,200 loss.

“The balance of the revenue we project to receive by accepting this compromise proposal in the amount of $92,250 will benefit the taxpayers not just this year but for future years as well. I realize this proposal will not answer everyone’s concerns, but I think it goes a long way toward addressing the concerns that have been brought to the council,” the mayor said.

Ocean City resident Tony Christ caused a stir in the room by asserting the city had already purchased the new Cale machines before the new areas of paid parking were passed.

“Is this the way you all govern?,” he asked. “You order the thing before the public hearing that determines it passed.”

City Manager David Recor responded the council determined to purchase 13 Cale machines during budget workshops from the current fiscal year’s budget due to a six-week lead time to have the machines in place by July 1. If the ordinance did not pass, the rest would be kept as spares or returned.

“I wanted to remind everybody that during the budget hearings when we discussed this were open to the public and they are televised,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said. “The way government makes money is very limited … we had a list of four pages of potential areas of paid parking. We picked these areas because it would affect the least people.”

Ocean Place condo owner Michael Feen, who has spoken in opposition to newly installed paid parking on several occasions, returned to ask the council for a comprehensive study over the matter.

“I am really concerned over the whole process. What Mr. Meehan has proposed this evening I hadn’t had any time to think about. I like to ask the vote tonight be put off at least until we can consider how to react to your proposal. In fairness, the attempt to compromise is worthwhile,” Feen said. “I would like to have a study done, and out of a comprehensive study then we can come up with a plan for the future that will mitigate some of the animosities that would come up.”

City Manager David Recor said it was during the April 9 budget session the council and staff evaluated a number of options in potential areas to install paid parking.

“We broke this down into bite sized pieces and to say that information was flawed, I think is an inaccurate description,” Recor said. “This is not the first time the Mayor and Council have dealt with this issue. This is not the first time the Mayor and Council have struggled with this issue but the data was comprehensive. The data was good data, and the data was updated when provided to the Mayor and Council as part of this discussion.”

Recor added to hire an independent consultant would cost the city anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000.

“A consultant is not going to make a decision … at the end of the day even with the advice of a consultant and after a more comprehensive review of the issue the Mayor and Council still will have to make a decision,” he said. “We believe we have provided good information for Mayor and Council to make a decision and as you can see they elected not to do the entire ocean block and selectively identify through their discourse where to implement paid parking. It is no more complicated than that.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas supported holding off on making a final decision until a study is conducted.

“It has always been a very controversial issue and until we do a study and show people we put time and effort into how we are choosing … it will be based on the reasons of a study,” she said. “We keep eating away at our family friendly relaxed clean town with every little step we take to adjust our budget shortfalls, and somewhere along the line the big step is going to happen for Ocean City.”

Attorney Pete Crosby, representing Crab Bag LLC, voiced his client’s appreciation for the mayor’s attempt to compromise.

“The problem is when you put paid parking on some streets and not others you are putting the squeeze on. Any way you look at it. One thing you do is going to have a reaction on another street,” he said. “Bottom line is I think we need an open process where you look at the competing interest on each street, street by street … and do it over a period time under some type of orderly way that it doesn’t look like it is being shoved down people’s throats as a political backbone,” Crosby said. “It has that feeling with three streets. Make a more orderly and global plan.”

Pillas asked for the motion on the table to approve the ordinance as is to be amended to include the mayor’s suggestions. There was no second made. The council then voted 5-1, with Ashley and Pillas in opposition, to approve the new areas of paid parking as proposed.