OCEAN CITY – A potential code amendment that would address on-site parking for new multi-family and townhome development projects was the subject of much debate this week, but resort planners need more answers and potential solutions before advancing it.
The Ocean City Planning Commission on Tuesday debated a proposed code amendment that would, if advanced, address the issue of adequate on-site parking for certain development projects. The issue raises concerns about the lack of sufficient off-street parking, or parking for units that is contained on the property. In some cases, a lack of sufficient off-street parking has led to parking on the streets. In other cases, a multi-family dwelling or townhouse project might have two-car garage spaces per unit, but one of the spaces ultimately becomes a storage area filled with lawn equipment, beach chairs and the like, necessitating more parking on the town’s public streets.
The planning commission is considering several options to address the issue and renewed the debate on Tuesday. According to the current code, a three-bedroom unit is required to have two-and-a-half parking spaces, which, in many cases, includes a two-car garage. In other cases, there is a travel-way through the center of a development project, in which property owners can park vehicles and still leave an appropriate lane for passing vehicles and emergency vehicles.
In other cases, a project may include parking in the front setback, and there is a myriad of other examples for meeting the parking requirements. More often than not, however, the projects as designed appear to meet the parking requirements per unit, but they end up with residents and visitors parking on the streets because the garages become something more like storage than their initial intent. Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville explained the intent of the proposed code amendment.
“This item has grown out of the last year or two with applicants using on-site parking as storage,” he said. “Oftentimes, garages are being used to store items and are no available for on-site parking. We want to make a distinction between single-family homes and condos, townhouse-style projects and multi-family projects.”
Neville said the code amendment as drafted could address the on-street parking issues for projects while affording developers and architects the ability to have flexibility in meeting the parking requirements.
“Our intent is to enforce the parking code, but allow for some flexibility in design,” he said. “We also want to define parking in garages is used for that purpose and not some other purpose as it applies to the minimum parking standards.”
Neville said the proposed code amendment was a jumping-off measure of sorts and could be further reviewed. Local attorney Regan Smith, however, said the proposed code amendment as written could be too rigid and curtail development and redevelopment.
“The one thing is, you guys have about 15 different proposals out there,” he said. “It would be helpful to allow Bill [Neville] to put together a team of architects and builders to come up with a solution and ideas.”
Smith urged the commission to take a closer look at the code amendment as proposed.
“Adding this needs to be reconsidered,” he said. “We might have a property owner who has a nice little lot and wants to put in four or five townhouses. This is a little restrictive and could prevent that.”
However, planning commission chair Pam Buckley said the lack of on-site parking for a project, particularly the use of garages that count toward the parking calculation that aren’t being used for that purpose, is creating headaches with on-street parking in some areas. Buckley said that was the purview of the planning commission.
“It makes it a public problem,” she said. “That what we’re here for.”
However, Smith reiterated eliminating the possibility of counting garages that aren’t used for parking toward the parking calculation for a project could curtail development.
“It doesn’t seem to make sense to stop someone from building a townhouse project and telling them they can’t have garage doors on them,” he said.
Architect Rick Schoellkopf agreed.
“Ocean City is a beach town,” he said. “A townhouse project in West Ocean City has driveways and garages. In Ocean City, real estate is valued by the foot. People who are buying these lots want garages.”
Planning commissioner Palmer Gillis asked how the architects and developers would address the parking issue.
“How would you suggest we address the abuses of the parking code?” he said. “Nobody is using their garage as a two-vehicle parking space. It creates a hardship on the neighborhoods when they are parking on the streets.”
After considerable debate, it became clear there was no easy solution for the proposed code amendment.
“The purpose of tonight was to collect ideas,” he said. “We may want to consider extending this public hearing and consider some of the things that were discussed tonight.”
With that said, the planning commission agreed to leave open Tuesday’s official public hearing and take some time to take a deeper dive into some of the options included in the code amendment as proposed.