Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan put his two cents in on the future of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge this week, opining additional spans elsewhere in Maryland are out of his consideration. Hogan made it clear he would only support adding another span to the existing bridge.
“There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge,” he said. “While the federal process requires multiple proposals, the data is indisputable. This option would maximize congestion and minimize environmental impact.”
Hogan’s preferred option is the most logical and probably the least complicated. Nonetheless, The Baltimore Sun, which always likes to blast Ocean City while promoting beach resorts in Delaware and New Jersey, opined, “It’s an odd position given the years of study still ahead, and one seemingly without much political foundation. Other than local real estate brokers and Ocean City business tycoons, the appetite for growth on the Eastern Shore is far from inexhaustible. Locals weren’t all that wild about William Donald Schaefer’s ‘Reach the Beach’ highway construction initiative a generation ago; it’s hard to believe they want a bigger influx of westerners (people living on the western side of the bay) today.”
It’s always important for the governor to weigh in on important matters like a potential new Bay Bridge, but the fact of the matter is any sort of construction on this span or another site is six to eight years away at a minimum. Hogan’s term ends in 2022. It’s likely nothing will be decided on this front by then. Next up after six public hearings on the most recent bridge study is a federal review that could take at least two years.
Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church last week called the implementation of a countywide rental license program one of the most discussed issues he can recall since being elected in 2002. “I agree with 90% of this legislation,” Commissioner Bud Church said. “There are some very big issues. I’ve been here for 17 years and I can’t say this to be a fact but I think I’ve had more questions and concerns about this legislation than I’ve had on maybe the top two or three issues.”
Although there are some specifics to iron out, the bottom line here is county is moving forward with legislation to mandate property owners renting their property must pay for a rental license through the county.
A key piece of this legislation involves occupancy levels. The county’s bill limits the amount of people living in a house or apartment based on a per-bedroom basis. The Coastal Association of Realtors as well as at least two commissioners agreed the number of lodgers should be based on square footage.
In a position statement, the Coastal Association of Realtors took special exception to the occupancy issue because it would have huge ramifications on housing in the north end. For example, if six college friends want to rent a two-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot home in Ocean Pines, the county’s law would argue that’s illegal. An argument could be made one room could have three bedrooms and there could be a loft with a futon to accommodate the individuals.
CAR’s position paper argues the county could be in violation of the law with that requirement. It read, “Among the core rights that a property owner has is the right to lease or rent the property on a temporary basis to another party. The proposed Zoning Bill would infringe upon that core right by limiting the maximum number of occupants allowed in a short-term rental for the owner of a short-term rental home with enough bedrooms to accommodate more than “one family or housekeeping unit,” as defined in Section ZS1-103(B) of the Zoning Code. … an ordinance that limits the number of unrelated persons who can occupy a dwelling – as the proposed occupancy limits in the Zoning Bill would do – is subject to review under a discrimination and reasonable accommodation analysis.”
During his years in elected office in Ocean City, Vince Gisriel was known for his attention to detail. He certainly displayed that in his nearly 3,500-word written presentation to the Worcester County Commissioners last week opposing the room tax increase. Gisriel provided a considerable amount of research and data to support his claim the increase was unjustified. While I believe the room tax increase was appropriate, Gisriel made some valid points in his testimony against it, including the fact Ocean City continues to keep too much money in its reserves.
“At the close of the fiscal years between FY15 and FY18, the town enjoyed a significant surplus in their Reserves or Unassigned Fund Balance, well above the written policy of 15% of the operating budget, and even above their intended goal of 20% of the operating budget,” Gisriel wrote. “There have been plenty of reserves to balance any recent Town budget. Contrary to what they would have you think, the M&CC do not need a ½% room tax increase to balance their budget. Ocean City is flush with money. Don’t let the M&CC tell you otherwise. By the end of FY17 and FY18, the Town closed the books with over $8 million above their 15% reserve policy. That is the equivalent to over 9 cents on the Town property tax rate.”