OC To Weigh Favored Robin Drive Reconstruction Options

OCEAN CITY — Although no vote was taken, it appears resort officials are closer to reaching an amenable solution for the proposed plan to repaving Robin Drive and widening the sidewalks without losing many on-street parking spaces.

City Engineer Terry McGean last month presented a proposed plan to repave Robin Drive, the densely populated corridor that runs east to west from Coastal Highway to the bayside at 28th Street. As part of the relatively new Complete Streets policy, any time a roadway is considered for repaving, broader consideration is given to other pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements. In some cases, that means widening sidewalks, undergrounding utilities where possible and adding marked or shared bicycle lanes where possible.

Each of McGean’s options for repaving Robin Drive widened the sidewalks on both sides of the street. Each of the options presented also resulted in the loss of some on-street parking on both sides of the street, a concept that rankled several residents along the corridor often starved for available parking during the summer season. A shared bike lane was also suggested by citizens and officials.

During Tuesday’s work session, McGean carefully laid out several options including simply milling and repaving Robin Drive while improving the storm drain system and meeting the ADA standards for the sidewalks. That base project, as it was referred to, comes with a $1.12 million price tag.

McGean then presented a handful of more expensive options, each of which accomplished the goals of widening the sidewalks, diminishing the loss of on-street parking and providing at least a shared lane for bicycles.

Option two would gain eight-foot sidewalks on each side of the street and would result in no net loss of on-street parking. Six on-street spaces adjacent to the Old Pro mini-golf business on the corner would be lost, but they aren’t typically used anyway. However, six new parallel spaces would be gained along the curved portion of Robin Drive adjacent to the city-owned park. Option 2 would run from Coastal Highway to Judlee Avenue.

Option 3 includes the same basic design, but would extend from Philadelphia Avenue to Sparrow Lane, gaining a much longer stretch of improvements including wider sidewalks. However, options 2 and 3 did not address the desired bike path issue. As a result, McGean presented options 2A and 3A, which would include eight-foot sidewalks on each side of the street, but would widen the vehicle travel lanes to 12-and-a-half feet, which would provide enough space for a shared bicycle lane along the corridor.

In short, options 2A and 3A would accomplish the goals of widening the sidewalks on both sides of the street while essentially losing very few on-street parking spaces and providing wider vehicle travel lanes to provide a shared lane for bicycles. The only difference between to two options is that 2A would extend only to Judlee, while 3A would go to Sparrow Lane.

Before the presentation could even begin, however, the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the proposals. State Delegate Wayne Hartman, who was wearing his local resident and rental property owner hat, pointed out the last meeting drew a measured response from the residents along the corridor and voiced concern about how the project was being presented on Tuesday’s agenda.

“I just want to remind the council about everyone that came before when this was discussed last,” he said. “I’m surprised to see this as an approval item and not a public hearing.”

Resident David Haughney, representing the Bay Colony condominium association, reiterated the residents’ concerns about losing on-street parking.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “As a condo association, we’re very concerned about losing parking on the street. I urge the council to look at alternatives that allow for the maximum number of parking spots on Robin Drive.”

One option on the table eliminated early in the design process was undergrounding the utilities along the south side of Robin Drive, which would remove the utility poles from the sidewalks. Councilman Mark Paddack asked if undergrounding the utilities could be explored anew if it meant getting wider sidewalks and meeting ADA standards without losing any parking. However, McGean explained undergrounding the utilities in that area was cost-prohibitive.

“Undergrounding the utilities would double the cost of the project,” he said. “There is just no way to accurately refine that estimate any further. It would be around a half-a-million-dollars, but that just an estimate.”

Public Works Director Hal Adkins agreed undergrounding utilities was desirable around the resort where possible because of the improved streetscapes, but said it would be complicated and expensive along Robin Drive.

“Undergrounding utilities is near and dear to me and we’ve done that wherever possible, but things have changed since 1991,” he said. “You have Delmarva Power, Verizon, Comcast and all of these other utilities and it would have to be carefully designed. If you desire to underground the utilities, we can stop talking about this project right now because it would take two- to three-years. We will not be simply milling and repaving. I would have to completely destroy that street.”

In terms of options 2A and 3A, McGean said the wider vehicle travel lanes would accomplish the goal of gaining a shared lane for bicycles.

“Having the travel lanes at 12-and-a-half feet is much more accommodating for bicycle traffic,” he said. “I think it becomes much more comfortable for bicycles and you would still get eight-foot sidewalks.”

Councilman John Gehrig said widening the sidewalks and improving safety for bicycles was the top priority for the project and options 2A and 3A appears to accomplish those goals with no substantial loss of street parking.

“I like no net loss of parking,” he said. “That seems to be a priority for the folks living there. I like bikes too, but I don’t know if we need a dedicated bike lane if it results in losing parking spaces.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said the revised options appear to accomplish all the goals, but made a push for option 3A, which would extend the project to Sparrow Lane.

“The city engineer did a good job of incorporating some of the concerns raised at the last meeting,” he said. “I think these options meet the concerns of the residents and accomplish our goals for that street, but option 2A only fixes one block. I think 3A addresses a lot of issues and it maintains the residential parking. I think we need to do the entire project from Philadelphia Avenue to Sparrow Lane.”

Dare made a motion to recommend option 3A and bring it back to next Monday’s meeting so the public would have an opportunity to weigh in before anything was approved. However, City Manager Doug Miller pointed out the issue of having a formal public hearing or just an open public meeting during which residents would have the opportunity to comment still needed to be resolved.

“Procedurally, we need some guidance,” he said. “We can bring this back on Monday and open it up for public comment, or we can schedule a formal public hearing. A public hearing would require notices to be sent out and it would have to be advertised, which could set this back a couple of weeks.”

Gehrig said he believed the public meeting format would satisfy the residents needs and concerns.

“I think having a public meeting is fine,” he said. “The public elects us to make decisions. The public also wants to weigh in on this as they should. I think opening a public meeting to comments accomplishes that.”

The majority of the council voted to present the favored options 2A and 3A at next Monday’s meeting and allow for public comments before any decisions were made.

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.