Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – November 10, 2017

Included in the Ocean City Police Commission’s action plan for the controversial vehicle special events and the list of seven recommendations to eliminate illicit activity associated with them is a separate document that rates the various vehicle-related special events on a variety of factors. The ratings  included the behavior of non-event attendees, the behavior of roadside crowds, the level of law enforcement required, trailers, the desired demographics, requires backfill business, adverse social media impact, promoter cooperation and pedestrian endangerment with a score of “one” being good and “five” being bad.

If adding up all the ratings listed, the most disturbing events would be the spring Cruisin event in May and the H2Oi event in September, followed by the fall Cruisin event and Bike Week. With the same “good” rating would be OC Jeep Week and Ocean City Corvette Weekend.

During Monday’s often-contentious debate at City Hall on the proposed changes, it appeared another category should be included on the list of criteria. After some of the rude and unacceptable behavior exhibited on Monday, another category entitled “behavior of some participants at council meetings” could be added. Certain factions of the packed house on Monday continually heckled councilmembers and other speakers and shouted some of their responses in what resembled the old curmudgeons in the theater balcony on the Muppets. Problem was there were about 20 as opposed to the two in the Muppets skit.

After hearing these rants and inappropriate nonsense being spewed toward officials, it’s no wonder the town finds itself in such a predicament over these events.

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As soon as the trees started to fall on Coastal Highway for the median fence project, Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins gave Communications Manager Jessica Waters a heads up to expect some phone calls.

It was surprising to see the trees cut down and subsequently put into a chipper on Coastal Highway for the project because every rendering the State Highway Administration has ever shown includes trees.

The press release from Waters distributed yesterday addresses the point. The project requires the entire median to be removed so that foundation work for the new lighting and fence can be laid. Once the median is demolished, new landscaping will evidently be planted.

“It’s exciting to see construction on the new median fence along Coastal Highway,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “We know the first phase of the project, including the removal of trees in the median, will look alarming but the addition of overhead lighting and ornamental fencing will be a true enhancement to safety for both drivers and pedestrians.”

The project should be completed in time for next Memorial Day weekend.

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Although the creation of a new zoning district to protect year-round communities from short-term rentals was deleted from Ocean City’s comprehensive plan, the issue is far from over. That’s just how it should be.

This issue needs to remain front and center because major concerns still exist in Ocean City’s year-round communities. Ocean City Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley put it best this week when talking about the impact short-term rentals have on year-round residents. The issue in the past has been a neighboring property available for rent for two days or two weeks can be located next to a year-round residence. This issue happened a few years ago on Mallard Island when a home was often rented to large groups of people, resulting in havoc being raised during much of the summer and the talk of a new zoning district.

“I don’t think Ocean City can be Ocean City if we don’t have people living here on a year-round basis,” she said. “… The comprehensive plan is not going to give anybody relief. The R-1A is not going to give anybody relief. The relief is going to come from the real estate community abiding by the rules and regulations. It will also take the residential community to call in complaints and let our enforcement people know what’s going on. … I feel strongly somebody should be able to live in an R-1 district year-round and not feel threatened by new people coming in every other day. I’m strongly against weekend rentals in an R-1 district and I’m not crazy about weekly rentals in the R-1. Maybe a month is fine, or a seasonal rental, so I get a chance to know who’s there a little bit. We need these items in the code to make it work and make everybody happy.”

On the other hand, Commissioner Chris Shanahan was also right when he said there has not been enough research to date on this topic for the city to move in a clear direction.

“In my opinion, the R-1A is not ready for prime time,” he said. “There is so much work to be done. I just don’t think it needs to be included in the comprehensive plan when it is so rough and so vague. I wouldn’t want anyone reading our comprehensive plan to learn Ocean City in unfriendly to investing and scare them away when we’re still in the process of defining the problem.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.