OCEAN CITY — It appears resort officials will ultimately approve closing a section of 48th Street to accommodate a midtown St. Patrick’s Day parade party, but the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office still must weigh in.
With an issue that began two weeks ago at the police commission level, the owners of the Red Red Wine Bar in the Gateway Grand complex at 48th Street requested permission to close a portion of the street closest to Coastal Highway to accommodate a St. Patrick’s Day parade party. Last week, the Mayor and Council instructed the business operators to go back to the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners to seek permission to host the satellite party in a tent in a section of a parking lot adjacent to the public street in an effort to avoid closing the street.
The county board had reportedly told the business operators the only way to accommodate the satellite parade day party is if the site was contiguous to the licensed premises, which necessitated closing a portion of 48th Street to the public during the event. City Manager Doug Miller told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday the county liquor board had not yielded on the contiguous issue, throwing the ball back in Ocean City’s court to approve the road closure. Miller said there was still time for the council to approve the road closure and get the event approved by the county liquor board at their meeting next week.
“My understanding is the Worcester County liquor board has informed them 48th Street would have to be closed because it needs to be contiguous,” he said. “We meet again on March 4 and they have another meeting with the liquor board on March 6.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said it appeared no one on the town’s elected body objected to the concept of the parade day event, but some issues still needed to be resolved.
“We’re trying to work on a solution that makes everybody happy,” he said. “I don’t like closing streets, especially during special events, but it seems like there is a good solution here somehow.”
Some of the concerns about closing the street have focused on the need for access for police and emergency services in the event of a situation. It should be pointed out the vast restaurant and condo complex can be accessed from a variety of different locations from 49th Street to 47th Street. For his part, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro said he and his staff and reviewed the plan and had no problem with it.
“We round-tabled this issue and we concluded we won’t have any problem if this road is closed during the event,” he said. “The business operator has shown a willingness to work with us if a situation arose and we don’t see any problem with it.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said he had no issue conceptually with the parade day party, but questioned if the town’s fire marshal should be allowed to review the street closure plan before it is approved.
“I certainly support the business and their ability for a special celebration,” he said. “As far as the parking goes, I’m not sure this is the best route to go, but it looks like the property owners have worked that out. The bottom line is it’s workable and doable. I would think the fire marshal would want to weigh in on this and make sure there is access in the event of an emergency though.”
Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore said he and his staff had reviewed the proposed closure, but agreed it wouldn’t hurt to have the fire marshal’s extra set of eyes on the plan.
“We do support private enterprise,” he said. “We just think it’s a good idea for the fire marshal to take a look at it.”
Councilman Mark Paddack appeared ready to approve the road closure on Tuesday and drew from his decades of experience on the OCPD. Paddack said there was plenty of precedent for closing streets or parts of streets to accommodate special events.
“During the course of my professional career, I’ve seen at least 60 small special events that called for partial street closures,” he said. “I know this is going to get worked out. It just seems like we’re kicking this can down the road again for another week. What is the fire marshal going to see that we can’t see from these maps?”
Nonetheless, the council ultimately voted 5-0, with Councilmembers Mary Knight and Matt James absent, to have staff prepare an ordinance for approval at next Monday’s meeting with the stipulation the town’s fire marshal would review the proposal before that meeting and make his own determination.
In the end, the council appears poised to approve the street closure with the fire marshal’s blessing along with other conditions including easily removable barriers on the street in the event of an emergency, an OCPD officer on site during the parade day party and the business operator proving security at the event. Presumably, if the council approves the street closure on Monday, the business operator can go before the county liquor board for its approval two days later next Wednesday.