OCEAN CITY — Concerned about the appearance of a prominent corner near the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, resort officials this week decided not to deed a small parcel at 41st Street and Coastal Highway to the State Highway Administration (SHA) this week.
Last year, the Mayor and Council approved the development of a dune-style fence down the center median of Coastal Highway from Route 90 to the Convention Center in the interest of improving public safety. Included in the project is a plan to install brighter LED lights down the median to greatly enhance visibility along the corridor.
The project was originally intended to be completed before the upcoming season, but a bidding snafu moved it back a year. In the meantime, SHA is attempting to tie up some loose ends to expedite the project once the bidding process is completed, including the installation of a 48-inch cabinet on an existing light pole on the corner of 41st Street and Coastal Highway to facilitate the installation of the overhead LED lights.
In order to accomplish that, SHA has requested the town convey the deed to a roughly 450-foot parcel on the corner of 41st Street and Coastal Highway to facilitate the installation of the lighting cabinet. On Monday, the council had first reading of an ordinance authorizing the transfer of the deed on the property to SHA. However, some on the council said not so fast to the idea of transferring the property so near to the Convention Center that is currently landscaped and could be the future home of a sign dedicated to the Performing Arts Center.
“If you’re heading south on Coastal Highway, this is the first sight you have of the Convention Center,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “I don’t think having a lot of cabinets and equipment there is in the best interest of the Convention Center.”
Dare expressed concern the deed transfer could turn over a piece of property near the convention center that is currently landscaped and provides an aesthetically pleasing first impression of the facility.
“We’re going to turn over a 25-foot area to State Highway to maintain landscaping,” he said. “I don’t know what the first view of the Convention Center will be if we do this. There is also a sign proposed for the Performing Arts Center and this corner would be the ideal location for that.”
Dare called for putting the proposed property transfer on the back burner until alternative locations for the cabinet and other equipment could be explored.
“I’d like to see us postpone this to see if staff can talk to State Highway about alternative locations to putting this in the front yard of the convention center,” he said.
However, Councilman Wayne Hartman said the deed transfer could be tied to the progress of the proposed median fence project.
“This is just first reading and we would still have two weeks to address some of these issues,” he said. “Because this is important to the median project, I think we should move forward with it.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca agreed, saying, “I don’t want this to delay the fencing or lighting project.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said while the deed transfer was loosely tied to the median fence and lighting project, there was no immediate need to approve it and said he would work with SHA to explore alternative locations.
“It’s not time-sensitive at this point,” he said. “They’re just tightening up some loose ends. The intent is to put it back out to bid in 60 to 90 days and I will do my best to get clarification from State Highway in the next seven to 10 days.”
Adkins admitted he was somewhat taken aback by SHA’s proposed location for the lighting cabinet.
“This location caught me slightly off guard,” he said. “I haven’t got an answer about changing the location. All they are proposing is a standard 48-inch cabinet to control the lighting down the center of the median, but there may be some flexibility on the location.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight at the onset of the discussion had made a motion to approve the deed transfer, but after hearing the debate she withdrew her motion to approve the ordinance that would begin the process of deeding the land to SHA. Hartman then attempted to at least move the measure forward in the interest of expediting the median fence project and Councilman Tony DeLuca seconded it.
“I’ll make a motion to approve this on first reading with a desire to bring some alternative location back to us,” he said. “There is nothing to lose by approving this on first reading.”
Councilman Matt James said there was no good reason to rush to approve the deed transfer until all of the alternative locations were explored, especially since it appeared there was no immediate impact on the median fence project timing.
“Why wouldn’t we wait and get this right the first time?” he said.
After considerable debate, the council voted 5-2 to not approve Hartman’s motion with Hartman and DeLuca in favor and Council President Lloyd Martin, Councilman John Gehrig, Dare, Knight and James opposed. As a result, Adkins will go back to SHA to explore alternative locations.