OCEAN CITY — Resort officials approved a relatively low cost plan for illuminating the new beach ball-themed water tower at 1st Street but not before considerable debate about how the project should be funded.
Last year, the new municipal water tower was constructed at 1st Street and St. Louis Avenue and was later adorned with a distinctive beach ball design welcoming visitors along one of the main entrances to the resort in the historic downtown area. For the last several months, Public Works Director Hal Adkins, at the direction of the city manager, has been exploring alternatives to illuminate the beach ball water tower at night so its distinctive design and official town logo could be visible at all times of day.
The first plan explored called for affixing lights to existing Delmarva Power utility poles in the area, but it was determined the lights would need to be higher than the power lines and raising the poles would raise the cost of the entire project to around $60,000.
“The dilemma we got into was the height of the poles,” Adkins told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday. “It’s certainly feasible, but at $60,000, it wouldn’t be practical, so I gave up on that approach and dropped back to punt, so to speak, and came up with another alternative.”
That alternative would affix a light to a utility pole on private property owned by de Lazy Lizard used to illuminate the restaurant’s gravel parking lot in the area. Adkins has worked out the details with de Lazy Lizard owner Steve Carullo to affix the town’s spotlight on the pole that would shine a light on the south exposure of the beach ball water tower that holds the town’s logo, lighting it up for all to see as they cross the Route 50 Bridge into the resort.
Adkins explained the initial cost of the light was around $4,100 and the electric power needed to supply it would cost about $550 per year. The town’s light would be on a separate circuit with a photo eye that would trigger it at dusk each night. The town would pay the roughly $550 per year of the electric service apart from the private property owner’s own power bill.
The Mayor and Council generally supported the concept, but at least one councilman had some concerns. Councilman Wayne Hartman questioned the liability of the public project on private property, the potential impact on neighboring residential properties, the potential for the view of the tower to be blocked when the former concrete property is redeveloped with a proposed hotel and restaurant project and also from which part of the budget the expense should be paid.
Hartman said illuminating the beach ball water tower and the town’s logo more appropriately falls under tourism and marketing and not the water department’s budget.
“The reason for lighting the logo on the tower seems like a good idea, but it seems like a tourism issue and not a water department issue,” he said. “That tank could be obstructed when the Cropper concrete plant is developed and I think this is a little premature.”
Hartman voiced concern the cost of lighting the tower would come under the water department budget.
“It’s not a money issue, because it’s a relatively small amount, but it’s the principle of the thing,” he said. “When I think of a water tower, I think of clean, safe water and not a tourist attraction. I have a lot of concerns.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight said lighting the town’s logo on the water tower made perfect sense, especially with the low cost.
“I don’t have any of those concerns,” she said. “Even if that property is developed at eight-and-a-half stories as proposed, I think the tank and the logo will still be visible. I think lighting it an night will make the water tower even more iconic.”
Councilman Matt James agreed, but also said it should be more appropriately funded through tourism and marketing.
“I do like the idea,” he said. “I just think it should be funded out of the tourism budget.”
Councilman John Gehrig said he too had some concerns, not with the concept, but with some of the nuts and bolts of the project.
“I’m conflicted,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, it should come out of tourism. I see the benefit, I just don’t want to be one of the guys who voted to light up a water tower when nobody can see it.”
Mayor Rick Meehan attempted to allay some of the concerns and said he supported the project.
“This is a good conversation,” he said. “Two years ago, the council voted unanimously to paint the tower and the thought was the logo on the side would be a good conversation piece. Why would we consider having it visible just half the time? Let’s take full advantage of our original investment and light that logo at night.”
Meehan said he has had similar conversations with business owners and residents in the downtown area.
“Numerous prominent business people in the downtown area and private citizens are asking why the town has not lit the water tower,” he said. “Even with a new building there, you’ll still be able to see it. The positives outweigh the negatives.”
Meehan also praised de Lazy Lizard and owner Carullo for working with the town on a viable solution.
“I’m happy to see a local business owner step up and want to be part of this project,” he said. “That’s great. We need more of that. For the last two years, he’s had the street in front of his business dug up because of gas and power lines being brought across the bay and it probably set him back a little in terms of getting open for the season. He’s been a good neighbor to Ocean City.”
Knight, who made the original motion to approve the project as presented, offered to amend the motion to have the project funded through the tourism budget in the interest of making it more palatable for some of her colleagues. After considerable debate, Councilman Dennis Dare had seemingly had enough of the back and forth on the funding source.
“I don’t even know where to start,” he said. “It’s so ridiculous. Did the tourism budget pay for the painting? We’re going to split hairs over $500 a year?”
Hartman took exception to Dare’s characterization of the debate as ridiculous.
“I know a lot of the things I suggest you think are ridiculous or irresponsible, but I guess we have a different philosophy,” Hartman said.
Gehrig also seemed to take exception to Dare’s apparent dismissal of the idea of shuffling the $550 per year cost to a different budget.
“Councilman Dare, just because it was painted and came out of the wrong budget before doesn’t mean we can’t fix that now,” he said. “If it is marketing decision, it should come out of the marketing budget. It’s not ridiculous to have this conversation even though it probably went 15 minutes too long. What’s proper is what’s proper.”
The council voted 6-1 with Hartman opposed to approve the water tower lighting project with the upfront cost of $4,100 and the yearly electric cost of $550 to be funded by the tourism budget.