Despite Business Fears, Ocean City Moving Ahead With Law Changes Aimed At Taming Auto Events

Despite Business Fears, Ocean City Moving Ahead With Law Changes Aimed At Taming Auto Events
new pic for ordinance story

OCEAN CITY – The local business community voiced concerns Tuesday as the majority of the City Council voted to push through laws aimed at getting a grip on motor vehicle events.

For the last couple of years, city officials have been promising action to ease residents’ concerns when it comes to vehicular events in Ocean City and the Police Commission last month issued a favorable recommendation on several proposed changes to city laws.

The most recent event of concern was Cruisin’ in May with 3,400 classic cars officially registered for the event and tens of thousands of more “wannabes,” as the event promoter refers to them. While the officially registered participants appeared to be well behaved for the most part and attended the event’s official activities at the Inlet and Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the latter group raced up and down Coastal Highway and other streets, dumped trash in parking lots and left a considerable amount of rubber on the roads.

The Police Commission was tasked with finding other ways to better the events as far as enforcement goes. Ocean City officials visited Myrtle Beach where the resort enacted over 20 ordinances to gain control over similar events. Three of those ordinances regarding alcohol consumption in parking lots, landscaping damage and trailer parking were discussed by the Police Commission on several occasions before being reviewed by the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday afternoon.

Prior to council discussion, business owners and tourism representatives approached the council to voice their concerns.

“I ask you to think very carefully about these ordinances, and please not to overreact because this is a very large weekend for us as a business. It is one of the main reasons we open in early May,” said Ross Wilde, representing Best Motels, of the Cruisin’ events. “The ordinances concern me because it will effect a large population of our guests at a time that we need them … I think if you pass all of these ordinances you might chase away these people that come down for these weekends with the majority being good people.”

According to Wilde, one group of car enthusiasts book over 90 rooms at the Beachmark Motel and have already called to cancel their bookings if the ordinances are passed.

“I am afraid if you anger them and they feel you are attacking them then we would not only lose them for the car weekends but for other times also. I can assure there will be a population of those people that will be so angry they will never come back to this town,” Wilde said. “I would suggest you think carefully about these three things because the affects will be far and wide, and I would ask that you find some alternative ways to address the bad behavior associated with that weekend.”

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones expressed concern over the impact the ordinances will have on local businesses.

“I think the concern is if you are using these ordinances to dictate what a property owner can do in their parking lot, there is a grave concern over people wanting to continue owning businesses in this town,” Jones said. “Rather than being really reactive to the public criticism … let’s just take a step back and think about it in more time than we have had.”

Jones recommended growing the existing “Trespass Authorization Enforcement Act” that many businesses have already expressed interest in. The program is a partnership with business owners where they enlist the police’s help to act on their behalf in the event that someone is trespassing on their private property while the business is closed and they are away from the property.

“We just have way too many questions on the way these ordinances are written,” Jones said. “I really hope that you don’t just push this through as an emergency ordinance.”

Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel added the council should give the businesses more time to provide input.

“Our greatest concern is the impact these events have on our economy with our businesses and I just want to make sure that it is given the proper time and consideration,” Pursel said.

Michael James of Carousel Group Hotels was afraid the ordinances will send an unwelcoming message.

“These people are great guests and want to come to town. We want to send a welcoming message to these people instead of sending their trailers to West Ocean City or charging them to park is sending the wrong message,” James said. “We are in deep competition with other resorts, and it is important to keep that in mind. None of us want a drunk and rowdy crowd, but there is nothing wrong with a few guys sitting in the parking lot drinking a few beers. Some discretion needs to be used.”

Public Safety Concerns Drive Proposed Changes

Mayor Rick Meehan recalled the first Crusin’ event took place over 25 years ago as a mechanism to expand the busy season in Ocean City. The first event had 200 cars registered, which has grown significantly since that time. However, the town’s policies have not grown along with the increase in vehicular events coming to town as well as their growing attendance.

“We have many people referring to Coastal Hwy. as ‘the strip’ … and we have watched the crowds grow along the highways egging the cars on and creating a problem that has put our police department in a difficult position to enforce the laws and keep everybody safe, which is our primary concern,” the mayor said. “Along with that, with the advent of social media, other unsanctioned events are taken place [H2Oi]. When you look at the number of cars that come to town and the problems that have occurred … we realize there is a problem.”

Meehan acknowledged the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) has grown over the years as well as the department has developed agreements with allied agencies who lend a hand in times of need.

“It has got to the point now where we are going to have to take action. The chief has come to us and stated that we need to do some things to make the situation better. Not to discourage the events but to allow them to continue,” the mayor said. “The promoters see in order to preserve their event and continue to be here we need to make some changes, and they are willing to work with us to make those changes. As far as the property owners, you see all of your guests having a good time but when they are encouraging cars to burn out or swerve, all they have to do is swerve the wrong way into the crowd one time and that would be the end of those types of events in Ocean City forever. That is what we are trying to avoid.”

OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro admitted during the times of certain events the department is taxed beyond its limits.

“We are a committed, professional police force but we need assistance as we move forward. Over the last several years, we have seen individuals that are irresponsible, and the level of disrespect to our town is intolerable,” the chief said. “We want to put the proposed ordinances in place to help maintain a certain degree of law enforcement. With passage of these ordinances, I believe we will be able to stem the tide allowing a further degree of control that overwhelmingly our citizens want. The three ordinances for your review I believe will provide us with the necessary and adequate ability to find peace and good order that we are looking for.”

The first proposed ordinance is in regards to public possession of an open container or consumption of alcoholic beverages, particularly in any required parking area of a business license holder.

The ordinance adds required parking lot areas of business license holders to the list of places where an open container or consumption of alcoholic beverages cannot be possessed due to police regularly encountering large crowds consuming or carrying open alcoholic beverages during special events in parking lots of shopping centers, stores, hotels and motels. This frequently results in disorderly, assaultive behavior and generates large amounts of uncontained trash, glass and debris, according to the ordinance language.

The ordinance states, “It shall be a violation for any business license holder to permit, enable or allow the consumption of or possession in an open container of alcoholic beverage on the parking areas, and the commission or omission of the license holder that allows the unlawful activity constitutes the act of maintaining or contributing to a public nuisance, and the license shall be subject to business license revocation. The employment of security personnel with the posting of signage, or proof of providing written or oral warning of the prohibition to the guests prior to the summoning law enforcement, shall create a presumption of compliance with the law by the business license holder … upon application, the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City may permit the public possession and consumption of alcoholic beverage at municipal sponsored events and municipal permitted special events on the public property and municipal parking lots and at private events on business parking lots subject to such restrictions and conditions which the Mayor and City Council may impose and approval by the Board of License Commissioners of Worcester County.”

“These activities are already against the law. The people who are being disorderly can be cited or arrested. People sitting in a parking lot drinking beer aren’t particularly doing anything wrong,” Councilman Matt James said. “Just going up to harass people sitting in a parking lot, watching cars and drinking a beer might be a little much.”

Buzzuro responded a trained officer assesses situations prior to making a determination in if it is problematic.

“Currently there are limitations as to our response during certain situations. The ordinance will give us certain leverage in being able to properly handle situations, unruly behavior and beyond. Private property is somewhat different as to what we can do on public property,” the chief said.

OCPD is reasonable in using discretion, Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

“I believe in our police department,” she said, as she made a motion to forward the proposed ordinance to first reading next Tuesday evening, Sept. 8.

Councilman Dennis Dare seconded the motion, voicing his concern over the perception the events are making of Ocean City.

“These groups are unruly, and we need to take some measures in moving forward. A lot of them are just plain disrespectful. We pride ourselves in being a family-friendly resort … and there are a number of people who get upset over the motorized events in the spring and the fall. I realize they help our business community but they also contribute to tarnishing our reputation, and we need to take control of that,” Dare said.

Being a business owner, Council President Lloyd Martin felt torn in making a decision, and didn’t agree with a business owner being at stake to lose their license.

“People attending the events can be disrespectful but at the same time the Cruisin’ events are family events as well. You will see three generations sitting on a curb as car enthusiasts. They don’t sit inside the bars and restaurants. They want to be on the highway to see the cars,” Martin said. “We do have issues that we need to address but this as a starting point I am not sure I agree with.”

Dare pointed out the ordinance is similar to the town’s noise ordinance which allows for two citations prior to consideration of a business license being revoked. Knight agreed and amended the motion to allow for two strikes prior to being out.

“I certainly understand where the businesses are coming from but since I have been on council I have never had more calls or emails from both residents and visitors on any other subject … then I have had over this,” Councilman Tony DeLuca weighed in. “The chief is asking us for something, and I think these ordinances are very important.”

The council voted 5-2 with Martin and James in opposition to present the ordinance in first reading on Tuesday evening.

Public Nuisances Targeted

The next proposed ordinance outlines destructive uses of landscaped areas, public nuisance uses of parking areas, and outlines business license holder efforts in preventing destructive and public nuisance uses of required parking areas. The ordinance requires the areas to be used for intended purposes only, as well as allows the Mayor and City Council to permit alternate use of these areas on private property by advanced request of the property owner.

“During special events we see areas that are being misused by the public on private and public property whether it is mulchy areas with shrubbery or landscaped areas are being changed over to stands for spectators. They are being trampled on, damaged and destroyed along Coastal Highway, Baltimore Avenue and Philadelphia Avenue, and we are looking for a way to control this with enforcement by this ordinance,” Buzzuro said.

Again, James pointed out destruction of property is already against the law.

“If a property owner allows people to sit on their mulch then who cares,” he said.

Buzzuro responded such a case wouldn’t be an issue.

“If a property owner calls us asking for assistance because their landscaping is being damaged, we would have a mechanism in place to provide relief for them,” he said.

When building in Ocean City, a developer is required to provide a certain percentage of landscaping, Councilman Wayne Hartman stated.

“When you see people sitting there with their coolers, it gets trampled and destroyed. The expense for all of that is amazing, so for us to ask people to respect property I don’t think is a big deal,” he said, as he made a motion to send the proposed ordinance to first reading on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8.

The council voted 5-2 to approve with Martin and James opposed.

Trailer Changes Proposed

The final ordinance proposed is to address a proliferation of vehicle trailers parked on public property, particularly during special motor events. As many trailers are often parked on sidewalks, creating dangerous view obstructions and traffic hazards the ordinance changes the existing oversized vehicle restrictions start date from June 1 to May 1 and extend the end date from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31, except for the parking of trailers in the vicinity of active construction sites used for transporting construction materials and equipment and the parking of boat trailers at the 100th Street municipal parking lot.

An email received from Kathy Micheal of OC BikeFest recognized the event’s MOU with the town allows the event to use the Park & Ride in West Ocean City to house vendor trailers.

“In general, the majority of participant traffic for OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week use their motorcycle as the sole source for transportation. Those attendees who trailer motorcycles are in the minority. For them, we will provide information via on our Website, Facebook and in our Rally Guide to familiarize themselves with the local laws, ordinances, rules and regulations and have recommended looking to their place of lodging for temporary trailer parking or storage or outside the confines of the barrier island,” the email states. “We fully support the Town of Ocean City’s effort to control this matter and recognize that the ordinance is in place for all events as well as general town vehicular traffic.”

Bob Rothermel of TEAM Productions agreed with the incredible proliferation of trailers, in a town that does not allow boat trailer or oversized vehicle parking on city streets, a change has to be made. The promoters have met with town officials in making the same accommodations for trailer parking at the Park & Ride.

“Change is never easy. If we had our way, we would implement the no trailer parking provisions in the Spring of this year rather than the fall, especially given the herculean task of creating these new procedures with less than 50 days,” Rothermel said. “However, we have always been willing to work with the town, the business community, as well as the residential community in making Cruisin’ Ocean City and the Endless Summer Car Show one of the major automotive events east of the Mississippi … bar none. Nevertheless, we hope and believe the event is strong enough to encompass these proposed changes.”

Most of the issues with trailers occur in the congestion of downtown, James stated. Instead of banning trailers all together, James suggested only eliminating downtown and residential neighborhoods.

“The people who attend these events do not want to leave their trailers or their cars. They want to have them near where they are staying. It is not convenient,” he said, adding having trailers park at the Park & Ride will only push business off island to West Ocean City.

The ordinance will provide an opportunity for private parking lots on island to make arrangements for trailer parking, Councilman Doug Cymek said.

“The Park & Ride in West Ocean City is not the cure all. It is just one parcel … there is a lot of things can be done,” he said.

Knight made a motion to send the proposed ordinance to first reading on Tuesday evening, and the council voted 6-1 to approve with James in opposition.