Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 26, 2021

Discussions on short-term rental regulations will soon ramp up in Ocean Pines and Berlin.

Prior to the pandemic, the concept in Berlin was to keep the short weekend rentals to certain residential zones while preserving the neighborhoods. Though there appeared to be a few options on the table at the time including an ordinance, the intent last winter was to allow short-term rentals in homeowners’ primary residences to prevent out-of-town property owners from renting properties. Back in early March 2020, then-Mayor Gee Williams said, “At the end of the day it’s not a resort. I don’t think we want to do anything to change the character or nature of our town.” Some members of the Berlin Council, like Councilman Troy Purnell and current Mayor Zack Tyndall, were against the owner-occupied requirement. The local Coastal Association of Realtors also opposed it. The pandemic took place and the concept was never revisited. The discussion will turn to the new mayor and council in April.

In Ocean Pines, the dialogue is further along and been studied by a committee for months. More than 180 short-term rental properties were identified by the work group, according to OPA Director Frank Daly who is leading the evaluation. “Although the vast majority of these properties cause no problems whatsoever, a small number have caused extreme problems to the neighboring homes that have resulted in repeated complaints of excessive noise, unsightly trash, lewd behavior, parking issues and generally disturbing the peace of the neighborhood,” he said. The guidelines will continue to get legal and committee review before being presented to the OPA Board next month.

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When asked directly whether he would allow increased restaurant and retail store capacity soon, Governor Larry Hogan was noncommittal this week at a press conference.

It would stand to reason operators should expect at least what they could do last summer – 75% inside occupancy. With vaccinations taking place and metrics favorable, it would seem some increased capacity will be authorized this spring.

On Tuesday, Hogan said Maryland is not yet at the point where the 50% capacity restriction will be lifted.

“That’s certainly something we’re going to take a close look at,” he said. “We have 100% of our businesses open right now, but we still have some capacity restrictions.”

Hogan said other public health directives, including the mask requirement in public places, would remain in place for the foreseeable future until COVID variants are identified and the majority of the state’s population is vaccinated.

“I don’t see us lifting any masking orders any time soon because we’re worried about the variants out there,” he said. “As I started this discussion today, our metrics could not be going any better. We’re down to October levels. We got passed the holiday surge and this has been consistent now for as many as six to eight weeks. Everything is going down, which is great, and we want to keep it going that way … What we don’t want is for everybody to get complacent. We have these crazy variants out there. There’s kindling out there still. There are embers and we don’t want it to flame back up again.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.