OCEAN CITY – A bill that would allow for limited expansion or repairs to town-owned structures on the east side of the Boardwalk with strict limitations had its first hearing in a state senate committee this week.
The state of Maryland in the 1980s created the beach erosion control district in Ocean City, which creates a line demarking where new construction is permitted to the east. The beach erosion control district was created by the state as part of the beach replenishment initiative.
When the state created the beach erosion control district, a line known locally as the build-limit line ran from the north end to 33rd Street. It stopped at 33rd Street because the seawall constructed as part of the beach replenishment project would essentially limit any construction activity east of the Boardwalk anyway.
A bill filed by Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) and Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C) would amend the state’s old beach erosion control district to allow for the repair or replacement of a structure on the east side of the Boardwalk owned by the Town of Ocean City or the state of Maryland only. The catalyst for the bill are needed repairs at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, although there are other applications.
Last year, the Maryland General Assembly adopted the capital budget which included $600,000 for improvements to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum to bring the century-old-plus building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and current fire codes. The building was a working lifesaving station in the early 1900s and was moved to the end of the Boardwalk where it was converted to a museum.
It has remained unchanged for decades, however, and while the building maintains its quaint charm, the facility has somewhat outgrown its usefulness as a public museum. There are ADA issues that need to be addressed and the historic building is often bursting at the seams with various exhibits, offices, restrooms, a gift shop and other uses.
However, without a legislative change to the decades-old beach erosion control district, improvements to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum cannot be made and the $600,000 appropriated by the state last year cannot be expended.
To that end, Carozza filed Senate Bill 64 and Hartman cross-filed House Bill 1300 in an effort to amend the beach erosion control district regulations to allow for certain improvements with specific limitations.
Carozza testified before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on the proposed legislation this week.
“This bill exempts the repair, renovation, reconstruction or expansion of an existing structure owned by the state or by the Mayor and Council of Ocean City from an existing prohibition on construction activity within the beach erosion control district as long as the project does not result in any significant permanent environmental damage as determined by the Department of Natural Resource,” she said. “Under current law, any construction activity, with the exception of some specific narrow sections, is prohibited already in the beach erosion control district.”
Carozza further explained the implications of the legislation.
“What that means is, under current law, certain important Ocean City facilities cannot be repaired or replaced, including the Ocean City amusement pier, the Ocean City Inlet parking lot, or the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum,” she said. “This bill as amended would provide a mechanism to repair or replace, with specific limitations, or to add to those existing facilities, with the approval of the Mayor and Council and the Secretary of the DNR.”
While the bill has broader implications, the impetus for it now is the needed improvements to the museum.
“This bill only applies to existing facilities owned by the state or Ocean City,” she said. “The immediate need for the passage of Senate Bill 64 is to bring the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the current fire safety codes.”
Carozza said during testimony the proposed legislation would help preserve an important part of Ocean City history.
“We in Ocean City are very excited about the upgrades to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum as this site is truly the heart of telling Ocean City’s story and the history of the U.S. Lifesaving Service,” she said. “This bill takes a responsible approach to allowing this priority project and other projects to move forward.”
Carozza called on the committee to advance the legislation, and although no immediate action was taken, it appeared to have support as a local courtesy bill.
“The bill makes it clear it could only apply to existing facilities, must have the approval of the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the DNR, and must not have any significant permanent environmental damage,” she said. “I respectfully ask for a favorable report for Senate Bill 64 and I invite each one of you to the adventure of visiting the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum in the future.”