Street Performer Issues Likely Main Focus Of Boardwalk Task Force

Street Performer Issues Likely Main Focus Of Boardwalk Task Force

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is looking to form a Boardwalk Regulation Task Force that will weigh ongoing issues with street performers on the Boardwalk and make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council about changing local laws.

This week the Mayor and City Council decided to pass forward legislation approving the formation of a task force to study issues regarding Boardwalk regulations.

According to City Manager David Recor, the town’s legal counsel regarding street performers on the Boardwalk is Venable LLP, and its scope of services includes the formation of a task force to study current Boardwalk regulations and make recommendations, as appropriate, in connection with the impact of recent court rulings addressing regulation of the Boardwalk, such as steps that the town has taken to satisfy those court rulings; issues that have arisen as a result of the town’s implementation of those court rulings; the current state of applicable law; and any revisions to the Town Code to address issues relating to the regulation of the Boardwalk.

A draft resolution before the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday afternoon stated, “Ocean City’s Boardwalk is a popular attraction, it is necessary to regulate Boardwalk behavior in order to ensure equal access, public safety and maintenance of a family friendly atmosphere. The laws regulating commerce, performances and noise on the Boardwalk have been the subject of challenges on First Amendment grounds that have resulted in revision of those laws and those revisions in turn have resulted in many issues.”

The Resolution furthers, “the Mayor and City Council are working towards enacting laws regulating conduct on the Boardwalk that will not offend the First Amendment but take into account needs of various constituencies, including the street performers.”

Over the last year, the office of City Solicitor Guy Ayres has conducted about 30 interviews of approximately 30 individuals who were either property owners, store owners or street performers on the Boardwalk.

“As a result of that, it is our recommendation that a task force be formed to conduct public hearings that would be advertised, the public would be involved and the task force would forward a recommendation if any, of any potential changes to ordinances that would affect the street performers on the boardwalk,” Ayres said. “The only recommendation that we have as far as the membership of the task force is no fewer than five members and no more than seven members, and at least one street performer on the task force because they truly know what’s going on up there. From the street performers that we interviewed we thought they had some very good ideas, and I think they would be an integral part of the task force.”

The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to move the approval of the task force to a legislative session for approval.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Frank Knight approached the council representing the Boardwalk Development Committee of the Ocean City Development Committee requesting a member of the committee serve on the task force.

Boardwalk performer/spray paint artist Mark Chase also came before the Mayor and City Council. Chase initiated a law suit against Ocean City a few years ago and would like to be a member.
“I would like to donate my time to be part of this task force,” Chase said. “I have a lot of valuable information. I will be on the Boardwalk now for six years, so if you guys will have me I would love to be part of it.”

In June 2011, the council passed an ordinance requiring street performers to register at City Hall and pay a nominal fee for the registration. The ordinance also addressed where buskers could perform on the Boardwalk and included language implementing a 30-foot rule for noise associated with the performances.

Almost immediately, the town’s new ordinance was challenged by Chase, who asserted it violated his First Amendment rights. A U.S. District Court judge ultimately sided in large part with Chase on the First Amendment issues. As a result, the federal court ruling allowed street performers and artists to sell or collect money for certain expressive materials but the town prevailed on the location issue, particularly N. Division Street, which provides access for emergency vehicles.

In 2013, a Boardwalk street performer who plays an amplified violin successfully challenged the section of the town’s ordinance regarding noise. A federal judge ruled against the Town of Ocean City in a civil suit that challenged the 30-foot noise ordinance for street performers on the Boardwalk.

Last summer a pole dancer made national news when she repeatedly set up shop on the Boardwalk and collected tips from pedestrians. The recent court ruling prevented the city from being able to limit her shows in any way.