Ocean City, Legislators Eye Stricter Special Event Zone This Session

Ocean City, Legislators Eye Stricter Special Event Zone This Session
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — While no new bills have yet been introduced in the current General Assembly session, resort officials are looking to add more teeth in the special event zone legislation approved by state lawmakers last year.

For several years, Ocean City has been exploring ways to combat some of the illicit and reckless activity on roadways during vehicular special events. Out of those early discussions was born a desire to create a special event zone during specified sanctioned and unsanctioned motorized events, which required the approval of the General Assembly.

Last year, then-Senator Jim Mathias and then-Delegate Mary Beth Carozza cross-filed pair of bills aimed at creating a special event zone on roadways throughout Ocean City during the spring and fall motorized events and the bills breezed through their respective chambers and were ultimately signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan.

As a result, special event zones were implemented during most motorized event weekends. Among other things, speed limits were reduced on most roadways in Ocean City, resulting in significantly higher fines for offenders.

However, the legislation approved last year excluded some of the more onerous violations such as reckless and negligent driving, for example. Satisfied with just getting something through Annapolis in the first year, resort officials vowed to return this year with a request for new legislation with enhanced penalties.

No new legislation has yet been introduced although it is expected at any time. The issue was broached last week during an Ocean City Police Commission meeting and was brought up again during Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting. Councilman Mark Paddack said he reviewed the committee meeting minutes and was pleased to see a desire to increase the fines for speeding in the special event zone, but questioned if enhanced penalties for some of the other egregious violations would be included in the pending legislation this session.

“Let’s talk about the special event zone legislation,” he said. “The only mention I see here is asking to increase the fine for speeding up to $1,000 from where it is now at $540 or $575,” he said. “Was there any discussion on the real problems with motorized special events including spinning wheels, excessive noise, bus lane violations, following too closely, negligent driving and reckless driving?”

Paddack said he has heard from the community those other violations and not speeding were causing the most heartburn.

“Those are the big issues my constituents have screamed about, not so much the speeding because there are so many vehicles in town they really can’t get up to a high speed unless they get out on Route 90 or Route 50,” he said. “It’s this other core of traffic violations that is irritating the crap out of the public. Why can’t we get those violations into this law? These other violations are the ones, quite frankly, that are annoying the public.”

Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro said all of those violations were being explored with the proposed new legislation.

“Things like negligent driving, reckless driving and the spinning of tires, for example, are being included for the General Assembly to look at,” he said. “Obviously, this is being done in several stages. As we prepare to go to Annapolis, hopefully these things will all be included.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed those other violations would be explored in legislation being prepared by Carozza and Hartman.

“If you look at the packet I sent to Senator Carozza and Delegate Hartman, you’ll see it includes negligent driving, reckless driving, speed contests and the like,” he said. “It’s all in there. They are working on the legislation now.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.