OCEAN CITY – The City Council approved on final reading this week an ordinance aimed at prohibiting aircraft landings within town limits, but not before handling a few questions on the law change from a private citizen.
On July 3, a private helicopter landed on a church parking lot at 17th Street and Philadelphia Avenue, discharged its passengers and took off again. The unexpected landing disrupted traffic in the area on a busy holiday and generally created quite a stir for hundreds of motorists and pedestrians.
However, it was learned shortly thereafter nothing specific in the town code prevents helicopter landings within town limits as long as the operator has the permission of the property owner. In July’s case, the pilot apparently did have permission from the church and the lot in question was cleared in advance.
To that end, the Mayor and Council directed staff to begin crafting an ordinance that would prohibit similar incidents in the future along with a laundry list of other types of manned aircraft that would be prohibited from landing and taking off within town limits. On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council were poised to pass the ordinance on second reading and put the law changes in the books but first had to field a few questions from a concerned citizen.
Local resident John Medlin questioned provisions in the ordinance that would allow certain landings and takeoffs in designated areas under special circumstances with the approval of the Mayor and Council.
Medlin questioned where the designated areas described in the ordinance would be located. However, City Manager Doug Miller explained the intent was a blanket prohibition on all landings with language included in the ordinance that could allow special exceptions.
“Generally speaking, the council is opposed to any landings or takeoffs within town limits,” he said. “The ordinance does leave a window open a crack for an approved landing by resolution in cases with special circumstances.”
Medlin then turned his attention to the enforcement of the ordinance and his assessment of police response times rankled some on the council.
“How do you enforce this?” he said. “It takes an hour for a police officer to show up for anything.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight, however, took exception to Medlin’s assertion it takes the police department an hour to arrive in some cases and defended the department’s response times.
“Maybe in some jurisdictions, but not in Ocean City,” she said. “Our response time is under three minutes. During the church incident with the helicopter landing, the police and emergency services were right on the scene quickly while it was still hovering. It does not take an hour.”
However, Medlin was not convinced and told the council it often takes the police an hour to arrive when he calls for a noise complaint.
“Somebody could land a plane and take off before the police ever get there,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said it was certainly possible for an aircraft to land somewhere in Ocean City, discharge its passengers and take off again before the police arrived, but asserted the same could be said of any criminal situation.
“That is true,” he said. “Somebody could commit any crime or violation and have it finished before the police get there. That’s just the way it is.”
The council voted 6-0, with Council President Lloyd Martin, absent to approve the ordinance on second reading.