Council Nixes Fundraiser’s Free Inlet Parking Request

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Mayor and Council week signed off Monday on a new charitable run and walk event on the Boardwalk next spring, but not before nixing a request for free parking at the Inlet lot for participants and volunteers.

The Mayor and Council approved the request for the inaugural Lyme Disease Awareness Walk-Run on the Boardwalk next May 14 from 6 a.m. to noon, but not before a spirited debate about a request for free parking for participants and volunteers on what could be a busy spring Saturday in the resort. The event is scheduled for Saturday, May 14 and will benefit the Lyme Disease Association of the Eastern Shore with the proceeds dedicated to awareness and education.

Contributions event organizers are seeking from Ocean City include use of the town’s judge’s stand, metal fencing to cordon off the start-finish area and free parking on the Inlet lot for participants and volunteers. However, while the Mayor and Council endorsed the newest special event, the free parking at the Inlet request caused some heartburn.

“My question is: why the free parking?” said Councilman Tony DeLuca. “We just approved an MS walk and run with 350 participants who will pay for parking at the Inlet. Why are we considering free parking for this inaugural event?”

Event organizer Angela Burke, who is involved with other charitable walk-run events on the Boardwalk, said the free parking request was included as an amenity for those who participate and also those who dedicate a considerable amount of time to making it a success.

“I’ve worked on the American Cancer Society walk-run for five years,” she said. “The volunteers arrive at 5 a.m. and are usually there for five or six hours. We’re hoping for 200, but this is the first year and we’re not sure about the turnout yet.”

Nonetheless, DeLuca questioned whether dedicating free parking at the Inlet on a mid-May Saturday morning was in the town’s best interest.

“This is a Saturday in mid-May and it should be packed,” he said. “I just think we need to reconsider it.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said the time of year and the time of day for the event should not impact the number of Inlet parking spaces available for visitors.

“This is the second Saturday in May and if we’re only using 500 of our 1,100 spaces at the Inlet, I don’t see a problem with this,” he said. “If it is not misplacing any visitors, I think we can probably accommodate this in the first year.”

Councilmember Mary Knight said she fully supported the first-ever Lyme Disease walk-run, but also had a problem with dedicating a section of the Inlet lot for free parking.

“The free parking aspect of this does bother me,” she said. “May 15 could be like it was on Thanksgiving weekend and that early in the morning there should be a lot of street parking available. I appreciate and support the cause, but I don’t want to set a precedent with free parking.”

For her part, Burke said the free parking request was not a deal breaker, although it could stimulate some extra business on the Boardwalk and around the Inlet on a mid-May Saturday.

“It’s not going to kill the event one way or the other,” she said. “It’s just something to encourage people to stick around and enjoy the Boardwalk. Honestly, most of the runners might be gone by 10 a.m.”

Burke’s husband, Cullen Burke, said the free parking aspect would renew the resort’s commitment to its non-profit special events.

“I just think it’s a positive reflection on Ocean City and shows the town is progressive with these events,” he said. “We’re hoping to raise awareness and get people access to new treatments. That’s the motivation behind this. These women donate an extraordinary amount of time to this event.”

After considerable debate, the Mayor and Council approved the special event while eliminating the free parking request. They also encouraged organizers to reconsider the request for the metal fencing for the event. The fencing costs $5 per piece per day.

“It’s expensive to bring out that metal fencing,” said Dare. “We talked about this at the committee level and the idea came about just to cone off the area.”

Cullen Burke said he has worked with the fencing in the past and believes it really sets the event area apart from the traffic on the Inlet lot.

“I installed that fence last year at the American Cancer Society run and it’s a little bit of a safety issue,” he said. “The fencing prevents people from driving in there where other people are milling around, because they’ll drive anywhere and park anywhere. The fencing cordons off the area more authoritatively.”

Again, the Mayor and Council approved the event with the fencing request included, but instructed organizers to look into it further.

“We’re just looking at anything that can keep your costs down,” said Council President Lloyd Martin. “Whatever you can save on fencing puts more money into your event.”