Council Hears Parking Task Force Review

OCEAN CITY — With the resort’s parking task force in hiatus for the summer, at least one councilmember this week questioned if firm recommendations on possibly expanding paid parking in the resort are not coming fast enough.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rick Meehan at the request of the council appointed a task force to begin exploring all issues related to the town’s existing parking structure and come up with recommendations on how best and fairly to increase revenue. The task force, led by City Engineer Terry McGean and hired consultant and parking guru Dan Kupferman, met four times during the spring including a final meeting this month before adjourning for the summer.

That does not mean the task force has been put on the shelf, however. McGean on Tuesday presented an update to the Mayor and Council on the progress of the appointed body and some early consensus building on certain key issues. McGean also explained he and the consultant will continue to drill deeper into some parking data over the summer and be prepared to hit the ground running again when the task force reconvenes next fall.

“I think what we’re seeing is the beginning of some pretty good consensus on some of these things,” he said. “I think there is consensus on eliminating some of the paid parking times during the shoulder season when there is less demand and maybe going with higher rates in season at times of peak demand.”

McGean explained the basic options or recommendations on the table through the task force’s first four meetings, emphasizing these were only conceptual options until a deeper dive into the statistics was undertaken and more formal recommendations were presented to the Mayor and Council, likely early next fall.

The basic options on the table include increasing the rates in areas where paid parking already exists, expanding paid parking in the ocean-block from 11th to 33rd streets, or expanding paid parking in the ocean blocks from 34th Street to the Delaware line.  Each of the latter options would likely include a residential permit program.

Also included in the discussion was having paid parking at just a portion of the parking spaces in the ocean block, the concept being there should be a premium for parking in those most convenient spots closest to the beach.

Finally, there has been considerable debate about giving something back to offset the proposed increases, including making the shuttle from the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City free and reducing or eliminating paid parking in the shoulder months of April and October. In addition, there has been discussions about creating one unified parking authority in the resort to oversee what is essentially a $4 million industry for the town.

“There was considerable discussion from the task force regarding these recommendations,” said McGean. “The consensus was that more information was needed to make specific recommendations to the Mayor and Council. In addition, the concept of making a very limited number of oceanfront spaces paid parking, for example 10 plus or minus on each street, should be considered as an alternative instead of the residential permit program.”

In the meantime, McGean said he and Kupferman along with staff would continue to collect and analyze data throughout the summer to be better prepared to present something tangible when the task force reconvenes.

“Moving forward, I will be creating a set of specific proposals both from the staff and from task force members along with data to share with the full task force,” he said. “I am also in the process of having the entire oceanfront flown this summer each day for a full week to get a firm idea on ocean-block parking demand.”

The Mayor and Council listened attentively to McGean’s update on the parking task force, but Councilman Tony DeLuca voiced concerns with the timing of the process.

“I’m a little disappointed and concerned about the apparent lack of action,” he said. “It seems like we talk about things for three years without any action and we sometimes miss key dates.”

However, Councilman Dennis Dare, who serves on the task force, said the issues are complicated and more information and data is needed before finalizing any firm recommendations.

“I watched some task force members change their opinions on certain things,” he said. “It’s evolving. I understand your frustration, but it is a process. If it was easy, we’d be done already. The goal is to collect more data over the summer and come back in September.”

DeLuca said he liked many of the conceptual recommendations on the table and hoped they could be firmed up with the additional data and information collected over the summer.

“I respect what you’re saying, I just think we need some very specific data by the end of the summer so we can get moving on some of these things,” he said. “I kind of like all of the recommendations, but we need to make some decisions.”

McGean’s presentation on Tuesday included a broad overview of the town entire existing paid parking structure including information on the Inlet lot and various municipal lots, the existing metered spaces in the downtown area and the potential for an expansion of paid parking in other oceanfront areas. Council Secretary Mary Knight pointed out the disparity in revenue from spaces in the Inlet lot, which is widely considered the cash cow for the town’s parking system, compared to the revenue from existing metered spaces in the ocean-block.

“What is eye-opening to me is the percentage of our on-street spaces that aren’t metered and the percentage of spaces that are metered,” she said. “More importantly is the revenue from those ocean-block metered spaces.”

Knight pointed out the data in the task force report indicated an on-street, ocean-block metered space brings in $3,278 in annual revenue, while a mid-block metered space brings in $2,350 and an Inlet lot space brings in just $1,836.

“Those facts lead me to realize those ocean-block spaces are very much in demand,” she said. “That is incredible to me. The revenue from the on-street ocean-block spaces are almost double the Inlet lot spaces.”

Tuesday’s presentation was largely informative and no action was taken. The task force is expected to reconvene in September and begin working towards some formal recommendations for the council.

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.