OCEAN CITY – The Planning and Zoning Commission voted this week to hold a public hearing on a newly proposed housing district that would prohibit short-term rentals.
On Tuesday evening, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith reported on a housing compliance and regulation seminar that occurred earlier in the day.
At the seminar Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee came together with the Fire Marshal’s Office, Police Department, Licensing Department, Zoning Department, as well as over 60 participants from the private sector, including residents, real estate agents, rental agents and management companies to discuss ongoing concerns regarding rental properties.
At the end of last summer, the Town of Ocean City addressed rental problems as the number of complaints began to grow. There were a couple of public hearings held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider a potential amendment to the City Code in regards to R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District for the purpose of regulating short-term and long-term rentals to protect the character and compatibility of the districts as single-family neighborhoods.
The public hearings came on the heels of growing complaints over rental properties. According to the city, there are 3,845 parcels included in the R-1 and MH districts with 276 of those obtaining rental licenses. Between 2013 and now, there have been 67 complaints logged in those areas over 19 months. Only 13 properties received complaints, which is 4 percent of the total number of 276. The complaints received are primarily from residents of the Mallard Island subdivision.
Although there was no official action made to city laws, the PRESS Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues.
As of a result of Tuesday morning’s seminar, the general consensus was city staff will work closely with rental agencies and other related entities to better enforce housing regulations.
“After we concluded the meeting, it was decided that enforcement is where we are right now, and that you all [commission] did not recommend a change to regulation but you do want a higher level of enforcement not just in the single-family residential district but in all rental programs,” Smith said. “With the PRESS Committee, it was well understood that we will work with the rental agents, property owners and neighbors. A lot of it is complaint enforcement but we are going to work on it together.”
According to Smith, the first step will be to work with rental agents in forming leases that clearly outline Ocean City’s housing regulations.
“There was a lot of talk about the conditions in leases and how we can enforce it together because when they make a lease they need to have it complaint with the occupancy load and the district that they are in,” Smith said. “We will emphasize the rental code, building code, fire code … so when they get a rental license there isn’t any question about the type of occupancy or use of the property.”
Commission member Peck Miller continued to express concerns over the town’s planning department being spread thin when it comes to enforcement.
“The Mayor and City Council can look at making sure we have qualified enforcement who knows the code to go out [in response to a complaint] if need be, not just calling you guys at 2 a.m.,” Miller said.
Commission member Lauren Taylor recognized the problem properties will reveal themselves early in the summer season.
“Identifying them early in the process and sitting on them hard can solve a lot of problems down the line. We will not be doing business as normal,” she said.
Smith agreed the problem properties will draw attention to themselves.
“We are prepared to go out and resolve it with the personnel that we have,” he said. “Last year there was over 500 complaints, but in previous years there has been over 1,200 complaints. We believe with the education this year and last year, with the Realtors and everybody working with us, we are all contributing to the solution. We really believe this communication with the property owners and rental agents will suffice … time will tell.”
In other news, Smith brought forward a petition signed by close to 80 percent of Mallard Island property owners in favor of the community being rezoned as an R-1A Single Family Residential District, which does not exist in Ocean City’s code. Currently, Mallard Island is zoned as an R-1 Single Family Residential District.
“What is being requested by the Mallard Island subdivision is they will like a hybrid single family residential district … an R-1A single family district will prohibit short-term rentals and allow only year-round rentals where you cannot rent less than 12 months. It would protect single family neighborhoods from not having transient rentals,” Smith explained.
The commission voted to have staff draft an ordinance that would establish an R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City’s code and to have the draft ordinance presented at a public hearing for public input. Once the public hearing is held the Planning and Zoning Commission will form a recommendation for the Mayor and City Council to consider.
“The code prevision to create an R-1A district is enabling legislation but not site specific. If approved it will be in the code as an eligible district, at which time communities such as Mallard Island can request to be rezoned as an R-1A district,” Smith said.
Representatives of Heron Harbour Isle were also present during the discussion and expressed interest in being rezoned as an R-1A district as well.
Other communities identified as R-1 Single Family Residential Districts that will also have the opportunity to be rezoned as an R-1A include Little Salisbury, Caine Keys II, Montego Bay and portions of Caine Woods.