OC Council, Planning Commission To Discuss Ongoing Issues

OCEAN CITY — With several weighty issues that could shape the future of the resort on the horizon, a joint meeting is being planned between the Mayor and Council and the town’s planning commission.

The Mayor and Council have already completed an updated strategic plan process which establishes priorities, goals, policies and management actions for the town. In addition, the town’s comprehensive plan is scheduled for a five-year review an update starting early next year.

To that end, the Mayor and Council and the planning commission have been working toward a joint summit of sorts to review several key development topics heading into that process. The Mayor and Council and the planning commission last held a similar joint meeting in 2016.

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville on Monday presented a proposed agenda for the joint meeting, a date for which has not yet been set. With the strategic plan update nearing completion and a five-year review of the comprehensive plan pending, Neville said the time was right for a new joint meeting between the two bodies.

“The last time this happened was in a similar point in time,” he said. “It’s an important point for the two groups to meet because you just finished an update to the strategic plan and there is a review of the comprehensive plan coming up. The last joint meeting was five or six years ago and the format could work well to improving communication.”

The proposed agenda includes an administrative introduction outlining the roles and responsibilities of the planning commission. The discussion items included on the agenda include items A through F. The agenda items include weighty topics such as the comprehensive plan update, housing, including current availability, an estimate of need and a discussion of projects in the planning pipeline.

Other items include a discussion of pyramidal zoning. Recently, the planning commission has been discussing increased residential development in zoning districts designated for commercial development.

Other agenda items include non-conformity, or the practice in some case of allowing projects to be developed that don’t conform to the existing code, and parking, including tandem or stacked parking for certain projects. Finally, the planned agenda includes other code amendments, such as maximum building height allowances and the sign code in different areas of the town, for example.

Councilman Peter Buas said overall he supported the agenda for the planning commission joint meeting as proposed, but raised some concerns about some of the weightier issues being included in what will likely be a single-day meeting.

“I was a little alarmed by items C through E,” he said. “Those are some very big topics. If the planning commission feels strongly about them, maybe can narrow it down, but those three topics could take days.”

Neville said many of the topics could have an impact on the five-year update of the comprehensive plan early next year and it was important for the two bodies to be on the same page.

“Do we anticipate a minor change next year, or will it require major changes?” he said. “That’s why those items are on this agenda. We want to keep the discussion at the policy level.”

Councilman Mark Paddack said he was satisfied with items included on the agenda.

“Two members of the commission have brought up non-conformity to me, so I’m glad that’s on here,” he said. “All of these things- density, housing, licensing and non-conformity- they should all be on here.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said each of the items included on the agenda were intrinsically liked to the others and having a general conversation with the planning commission on them was important.

“All of these things work together,” he said. “It’s a good idea to have a basic conversation on all of these. The planning commission is looking for some direction on some of these issues going forward.”

Meehan said the planned joint meeting with the planning commission could be a jumping off point for a deeper dive on some of the issues with the appointed body.

“This is just a first meeting,” he said. “If we need to drill down on a certain topic, we can schedule a follow-up meeting.”

Councilman John Gehrig said he was fine with the agenda as proposed but questioned if the joint meeting should be held after the November election in case some of the faces on the council change. Gehrig said he was interested to learn how the planning commission, which has added new members its own in recent months, feels strongly about some of the issues.

“I want to hear what their priorities are,” he said. “If we disagree on some things, that’s a good thing. I don’t want to go too deep down a hole on a single topic.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said he believed the agenda as presented covered the appropriate ground.

“Certainly, we all have energy on all of these topics,” he said. “I think it could be reorganized a bit, but I think these agenda items can be prioritized and discussed.”

In the end, the council directed Neville to refine the agenda and begin planning for a joint meeting with the planning commission, likely in September.

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.