Resort Planners Debate Proposed Parking Code Change

OCEAN CITY – The debate continued this week on a potential code amendment that would address the issue of on-site parking requirements for new multi-family and townhome development projects.

The Ocean City Planning Commission on Wednesday renewed the debate on a proposed code amendment that would, if advanced in its current form, address the issue of adequate on-site parking for certain development projects. The issue raises concerns about the lack of sufficient on-site parking, or parking for units that is contained on the property.

In some cases, a lack of on-site parking has led to residents parking on the streets. In other cases, a multi-family dwelling or townhouse project might have two-car garages for each 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 Wednesday. 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.

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In June, the planning commission held a public hearing on the proposed code amendment to address the interpretation of the minimum number of spaces for a new development project and there was considerable comment about the difference between enclosed garages and open on-site parking, underneath the building, for example. The proposed code amendment prefers open on-site parking because the enclosed parking spaces for a project are often not used for the intended purpose of meeting the minimum parking requirements and ultimately become storage areas, necessitating the need for residents to park on the street.

Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis, who has been a staunch proponent for the proposed code amendment, said the commission has a duty to advocate on behalf of the citizens and not necessarily for the developer.

“The comprehensive plan calls for adequate parking where you stay,” he said. “That’s what we’re charged to enforce. This is our guide. We’re not here to protect developers. We’re here to protect the citizens and the taxpayers. We have approved parking that doesn’t work.”

Of course, from an economic standpoint, a developer desires to gain as many units as he or she can on a particular property, but increased density often comes at the expense of less on-site parking. The planning commission ensures a project meets the minimum parking requirements during site plan approval, but those spaces often become used for some unintended purpose, according to Gillis.

“Our job is to look at what a property would support,” he said. “We owe it to the existing property owners. If you have properties that eat up the street parking in a neighborhood, some property owners won’t find a place to park. We have a code that doesn’t work in terms of parking.”

Developer Jeff Thaler was the lone speaker during the re-opened public hearing on Wednesday.

“I’m glad everybody is open to discussion,” he said. “Two projects we did downtown have enclosed parking. We do it both ways. Some have open parking on pilings. We prefer to do enclosed downtown. I don’t know how you solve this issue, but there is a solution. It could be bigger garages that will allow two vehicles and still have room for storage.”

Gillis reiterated his point about the importance of the proposed code amendment.

“We have a code that isn’t working,” he said. “Our job is to correct that. That’s all I’m saying.”

Thaler said there could be adjustments in the required number of spaces per unit based on the number of bedrooms, for example.

“There are solutions to this,” he said. “A project could lose a unit and gain more parking. It’s up to the architect and the developer to make it work.”

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville outlined the code amendment approval process.

“The next step when you’re comfortable with it is to move it to the Mayor and Council,” he said. “We can make amendments to the staff report. Our intent was to provide designers with the flexibility to utilize great alternatives.”

With that said, the commission agreed to remand it back to staff for recommendations reflecting some of the suggestions made during the two public hearings.

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.