Parking Amendment Sent Back To Staff For Further Review

OCEAN CITY— A proposed code amendment which could allow for tandem, or stacked, parking with a valet system for some major downtown redevelopment projects including the proposed Margaritaville project was sent back to staff this week for further review and revision.

The Mayor and Council had before them on Tuesday a proposed code amendment for second reading which, if approved, would allow major redevelopment projects in the downtown and upper downtown areas to utilize tandem, or stacked parking spaces in order to meet their minimum parking requirements. The council earlier this month approved the proposed code amendment on first reading but directed staff to make some adjustments before it was brought back for second reading.

On Tuesday, the revised code amendment came back to the council for second reading, but after some debate, the council did not pass the measure and directed staff to make further revisions and bring it back. In simplest terms, if a redevelopment project for a hotel complex or a commercial use in the downtown area could not meet its minimum parking space requirements on-site, tandem parking, or spaces in which vehicles are stacked one behind the other could be utilized to meet the minimum requirements as a comprehensive parking management system, if valet service, for example, was provided.

In other words, if a project required 100 parking spaces to meet the code, 20% of them could tandem, or stacked, spaces to meet the minimum requirement. Ostensibly, the code amendment, if approved, would apply to any significant redevelopment project in the downtown or upper downtown area that can’t meet its parking requirements on-site, but the proposed amendment is somewhat specific, at least for now, to major projects already in the planning pipeline, including the Margaritaville project.

However, before the code amendment could be approved on second reading on Tuesday, some on the council voiced concern with certain aspects of the approval process. As he has done from the beginning, Councilman Peter Buas had reservations about the process by which a “comprehensive parking system” would be approved.

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As written, the proposed code amendment includes language to the effect “In the downtown and upper downtown design overlay district, and subject to planning commission approval, 20% of the required parking for a hotel, motel or commercial use property that requires 100 or more parking spaces may satisfy the on-site or off-site parking requirements by using tandem parking.”

Essentially, the planning commission would approve an application for the code amendment during the site plan review process. Buas, however, stuck to his guns on the notion an approval of a comprehensive parking system should come before the Mayor and Council for approval.

“I still have concerns about ‘subject to planning commission approval’,” he said. “I’d like to strike that language. I’d like to get some staff comments on what that means. More importantly, is it an appeal, or a recommendation?”

Councilman Mark Paddack, however, said the proposed code amendment could be moved forward on second reading and the issue of the approval process could be worked out in a future work session. It should be noted Councilmen Lloyd Martin and John Gehrig were absent during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’d like the council to move this,” he said “I know this is second reading. There are some things in here that could be modified as a compromise and I think we can get the majority of the council to go along. As it reads right now, I’m willing to compromise here and entertain other ideas if it was done in a work session.”

Councilman Frank Knight agreed with Buas that the code amendment needed a little cleaning up by staff.

Another issue raised during different stages of the approval process for the code amendment was if it should apply in all areas of the city and not tailored to just the downtown and upper downtown areas where major redevelopment projects are in the pipeline. Buas made a motion to include a discussion about making it citywide along with his other concern.

“I’ll make a motion to remand this to staff with the direction that they revisit that language about ‘subject to planning commission approval’ to see what the application looks like and if there is any appeal in the process so the Mayor and Council gets the approval,” he said. “Also, that the expansion of the program citywide be put on the planning commission agenda for a public hearing.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said he believed the focus of the planning commission’s deliberations was on the downtown area.

“I don’t have any problem with it going back to the planning commission,” he said. “I thought their hearing with regards to the downtown and upper downtown certainly established some differences as opposed to the balance of the town.”

Meehan said in simplest terms, the code amendment as proposed could increase development density if applied all over the city.

“This in many cases, and maybe arbitrarily, increases density,” he said. “I’m just not sure that the general public in Ocean City wants us to increase density. I think it does need to be fleshed out, but that’s what the bottom line is. I’m just not sure that the direction the public wants us to go.”

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.