Mayor: ‘An Awful Lot Of Discussion’ Before OC Zoning Change Approved

Mayor: ‘An Awful Lot Of Discussion’ Before OC Zoning Change Approved
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OCEAN CITY – As promised, members of the Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR) made their opposition to a proposed new zoning district known this week, sparking Mayor Rick Meehan to respond to those concerns.

CAR members, rental management companies and property owners gathered at Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council regular session to demonstrate their opposition to the recommended establishment of an R-1A Single Family Residential District in Ocean City that would prohibit rentals less than 12 months.

At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints, with the majority of those complaints deriving from Mallard Island. At that time, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District in regulating short-term and long-term rentals.

Although there was no official action made to city laws, the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues and enhance enforcement. Despite the reformation of PRESS, close to 80 percent of Mallard Island residents signed and submitted a petition requesting the implementation of an R-1A zoning district.

Subsequently, the Planning and Zoning Commission held another public hearing last month and voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to consider the formation of an R-1A zoning district, which currently does not exist in Ocean City’s code.

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In response, CAR launched a grassroots campaign to oppose the proposed legislation to preserve the future of Ocean City’s real estate industry. Wearing red, those in opposition attended the Mayor and City Council’s meeting this week even though discussion regarding an R-1A zoning district was not scheduled. The discussion is scheduled for the Mayor and City Council’s work session on July 28.

However, Meehan, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, took the opportunity to clarify a few misconceptions regarding the proposed enabling legislation.

“Everybody has to understand, the only district that this is even being considered for is in the R-1 Single Family District, and so if you live in a multi-family area, a townhouse or condominiums that is not what is being discussed,” the mayor said. “The R-1 zoning district is the most restrictive district … you are allowed one home on a property in an R-1 area. That is what makes it distinctive and separate from all other areas. It is the R-1 areas where a lot of our year-round residents live, and they have had some problems with some of the rentals taking place in those areas.”

Meehan furthered, if an R-1A district is passed, it is only enabling legislation where a neighborhood zoned as R-1 can request to become R-1A through an application and approval process by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Mayor and City Council.

“I am not here tonight to tell you this recommendation is the solution to be chosen by the Mayor and City Council because we have not even had a chance to discuss it but if you look at our Strategic Plan one of our goals is to make Ocean City a more livable community for its residents, and to continue to promote quality year-round communities,” the mayor said. “There is an awful lot of discussion that will have to take place for this to pass.”

Meehan recalled the meetings that took place a year ago following growing complaints over problem rental properties.

“I am not sure everybody took it seriously,” the mayor said. “The city has picked up enforcement recently, but I am not sure all the property owners have taken it seriously to comply with all the rules and zoning ordinances in regard to what is allowed to rent and how many people are allowed to occupy any given residence, and I am really not sure that the rental companies did their part to address some of the problem properties, so I suggest as this is being discussed further that we all continue to work together to resolve these issues as a community should do to resolve issues.”

Joe Wilson, a member of CAR’s board of directors speaking on behalf of the association, came before the Mayor and City Council asking for a partnership.

“Even though my property is located in the R-2 district, I still sympathize with someone who owns a property in the R-1 district who purchased it as an investment and may have that right taken away. We certainly do not want to punish people who try to make a good investment in town,” Wilson said. “We need enforcement from all parties; landlords, rental agents, neighbors and law enforcement. We need it coming from all directions. I wouldn’t be opposed to harsher penalties not just for landlords but also for tenants. We also need to punish those who are operating without a rental license. I am also concerned over the legal implications. I have talked to some of the attorneys in town who say this may be a potential constitutional issue in regards to equal protection … just want to make sure we don’t tie anymore of the town’s money up in a legal battle.”

A press release from CAR later in the week reported the association has teamed with the Maryland Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of REALTORS® to mobilize its membership in opposition of the R-1A district, “because ALL private property rights matter, and that includes the rights of rental property owners in residential neighborhoods who purchased their properties under the guise of making a valuable investment in beautiful Ocean City,” according to Vicki Harmon, president of the CAR board of directors.

Harmon added, “We also do not want to see limitations be placed on residential properties, to the point where they can’t be sold to future investors because they can’t be rented to tourists.”