Townhouse Project Approved Amid Sidewalk Debate

OCEAN CITY — Resort planners this week approved a new townhouse development project in the downtown area, but not before a larger discussion about sidewalk widths in the area.

The Ocean City Planning Commission on Tuesday reviewed a proposed townhouse project on St. Louis Avenue and 12th Street including eight, three-bedroom units and one, two-bedroom unit. The project’s approval was virtually a slam dunk as it met all requirements including more than enough parking spaces and needed no special exceptions or non-conformities.

However, before the commission could vote on the site plan approval, Commissioner Lauren Taylor raised questions about the proposed widening of the sidewalk along St. Louis Avenue and a proposed reversal of the recent trend. Taylor suggested the sidewalk be retained at five feet wide, allowing the project to include more green space and landscaping along the roadway.

“Normally, I’m in favor of widening sidewalks, but here, I think I’d like to see more grass,” she said. “To add more concrete in that area makes it less residential. Each of these is site-specific and I’m generally in favor of wider sidewalks, but in this case, the need for a pretty neighborhood outweighs wider sidewalks.”

Wider sidewalks throughout town where practical has been a long-standing goal for resort officials and has often become a standard condition for approval for new development projects in the resort.

However, in this particular case, the planning commission seemed inclined to keep the sidewalks at the existing five feet in order to expand the landscaped areas. Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) Executive Director Glenn Irwin said his staff reviewed the project and supported it as proposed. He said if a decision were to be made on where to widen sidewalks if at all, the OCDC would prefer the St. Louis Avenue side.

“We support this project,” he said. “It’s well thought-out and should be a nice addition to this neighborhood. If you had to compromise, I’d rather see the wider sidewalks on St. Louis. The city’s policy has been to get wider sidewalks where practical.”

Project architect Rick Schoellkopf said the developers would have no problem foregoing wider sidewalks in favor of more landscaping.

“I completely agree,” he said. “I grew up at 13th Street and St. Louis Avenue. We’re going from five feet of landscaping to just two feet and there’s not a lot of foot traffic in that area. I get that it’s a city-wide issue, but I look at this as a site-specific issue.”

Zoning Manager Frank Hall said it was the planning decision to put a condition on the site plan approval for sidewalk widths, but that he would ultimately have to answer to a higher authority.

“I know the pressure I will get from the Mayor and Council for not getting wider sidewalks here,” he said. “Another thing to consider are the utility poles in that area and having that extra width.”

Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley voiced concern with setting a precedent.

“It does open a can of worms,” she said. “The next applicant will come in and say they didn’t have to do it, so why do we.”

In the end, the commission approved the site plan while keeping the sidewalk width at the existing five feet.

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.