Questions Lead To More Study For Freeboard Ordinance

OCEAN CITY — An ordinance presented for second reading this week establishing a one-foot freeboard elevation for new construction in the downtown area was tabled after questions were raised about some of the language.

For months, resort officials at different levels have been working on adopting a new one-foot freeboard elevation requirement for new or substantially improved residential or commercial construction in the downtown area south of 3rd Street. The new minimum standard for maintaining Ocean City’s Community Rating System (CRS) flood rating requires the town adopt and enforce at least a one-foot freeboard elevation for new construction in the downtown area designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area.

While the town building code generally requires additional elevation for new construction of three feet above base flood elevation, portions of the town in the downtown mixed-use zoning district (DMX) were exempt from freeboard elevation requirements in the last code amendment in 2015, recognizing zoning criteria that encouraged direct sidewalk access to retail stores with minimal setbacks.

The Mayor and Council had before them for second reading on Monday an ordinance that would codify the one-foot freeboard requirement in the downtown area in order to meet flood insurance through the CRS. The town’s Class 6 CRS currently provide policy holders with an average discount of $63 per policy, or roughly a $1.1 million savings for the entire community.

The town’s CRS was scheduled for review and approval this month, necessitating the code change for the one-foot freeboard requirement in the downtown area. The ordinance on the table on Monday would have achieved the desired result and appeared to be on its way to passage with little discussion. However, Councilman Peter Buas raised the issue of what the one-foot freeboard would mean for the overall height allowed for new residential or commercial buildings.

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“The last time this came up, we were concerned about the height restrictions and whether is was measured from base flood elevation or free board,” he said. “There was an assertion that everything in this district would be measured from freeboard, which it is not.”

Buas pointed out the ordinance presented Monday addressed the DMX zone, but was not consistent with the other zoning districts in the downtown area.

“I think it should be consistent either from grade or base elevation,” he said. “I think that ought to be looked at if we’re going to approve this. So, until we can couple these, and I think there’s enough time before and deadlines regarding flood insurance, we should consider tabling this.”

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville said the last time the issue was discussed, the DMX downtown mixed-use district was amended in 2020 to say that building height should be measured from base flood elevation or freeboard.

“The DMX covers a little over half of the downtown area,” he said. “The rest is made up of other zoning districts that don’t have the same language, so you’re right. We can remedy that by bringing the other zoning districts in under the same language.”

Buas recommended tabling the ordinance for second reading on Monday to ensure it meshes with language in the other zoning districts in the downtown area.

“I think it would be premature to pass this now,” he said. “It would essentially be lowering everybody’s building envelop by a foot.”

Buas made a motion to table the ordinance and remand it to staff for further review. The motion passed unanimously.

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.