OCDC Eyes Downtown Design Guideline Changes

OCEAN CITY – Before planned public hearings, the Planning and Zoning Commission directed the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) this week to clarify a packet of proposed amendments to the existing design standards for the Upper and Lower Downtown District.

OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin presented the commission on Tuesday evening with the proposed changes for Upper Downtown, considered 17th to 3rd streets, and Lower Downtown, considered 3rd Street to the Inlet.

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the OCDC has been working on the proposed design standard amendments for the past couple of years, and the organization was before the commission to receive approval in moving the amendment toward a public hearing followed by a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council.

“The proposed changes are aimed to update the standards and to achieve uniformity between the two districts,” Smith said.

Irwin focused on the amendments regarding colors and signage as the others were considered “housekeeping measures” with the insertion or deletion of language throughout the design standards.

Under “Colors,” OCDC is proposing property owners provide a recommended palette of colors for design standards area that follows the Sherwin Williams color palette for Colonial and Arts & Crafts or equivalent selections and solid white color. Other colors will be subject to review and all trim shall be white.

“A number of people ask us what colors we are looking for, and we recommend something that we know is a flexible color for a number of reasons,” Irwin said. “They are generally lighter colors but every so often we will have a darker color building. For example, The Buckingham Hotel on 15th St. really comes out with white trim.”

Under “Signage”, the proposed amendments allow electronic signs along Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues between the north side of N. Division and 3rd Streets not to exceed 32 square feet in size, and with one sign per property facing a major street. The sign size shall be counted towards the maximum size permitted for free standing sign or wall sign as used.

“When we first got into discussion on signage originally, it was a major issue and continues to be a major issue but for the most part it has worked out well,” Irwin said. “We have had a number of requests for electric signage come through particularly on Baltimore Ave south of 3rd Street.”

Irwin furthered, projecting signs located in the Upper Downtown District shall be up to 14 square feet in size but much larger signs can only be located along Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues in commercially zoned districts. Side street signs shall not exceed six square feet  and cannot be higher than 20 feet from grade, and the projection sign cannot be more than four feet from building wall or closest part of building to public right away.

A-frame signs are allowed if smaller than eight square feet and must be on private property, unless approved by the city in public right of way, and can only be out during business hours, and only one per business. Signs cannot exceed four feet in height from grade. Signs can be double-sided.

Window signs “do not cumulatively exceed 25 percent of the aggregate glazed area of the business establishment.” Window signs above the first floor may not exceed 10 percent of the aggregate glazed area. Signage within 25 feet of the Boardwalk on side streets may exceed signage standards to reflect the character of the Boardwalk and will be subject to review.

The proposed amendments will allow temporary banners for city permitted special events as long as the business only places them no longer than two days before event and removes them within two days of event and up to two banners will be allowed along the building’s street side. The banners are to be placed on the building wall. Each banner may be up to 12 square feet in size.

Under “Awnings”, as with the Upper Downtown District, the downtown district code should be amended to require all valances of awnings to be no taller than one foot. Such awnings may be permitted to allow light penetration through the valance via translucent vinyl one main side facing street.

The commission felt the list of proposed amendments needed to be clarified by having the existing language of the design standards within City Code alongside with the proposed changes, as well as have the amendments grouped into categories in order to hold a public hearing per category, such as a signage category and a housekeeping category.

Commission member Lauren Taylor made a motion for the commission to hold two or three public hearings to receive public input on the proposed changes and to have OCDC clarify the information for the public. The commission voted unanimously to approve.

OCDC wrote the design standards for the downtown area and such standards were approved and codified by the Mayor and City Council in November 2002. Subsequently, OCDC completed the design standards for the Upper Downtown Area (3rd to 17th streets), and those standards were approved in 2006.