OC Mayor Vetoes Stacked Parking Change, Saying, “I Cannot, In Good Conscience, Support This Ordinance As Approved’; Meehan Continues To Maintain Margaritaville Property ‘Being Overdeveloped’

OC Mayor Vetoes Stacked Parking Change, Saying, “I Cannot, In Good Conscience, Support This Ordinance As Approved’; Meehan Continues To Maintain Margaritaville Property ‘Being Overdeveloped’
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan File Photo

OCEAN CITY — Mayor Rick Meehan this week vetoed an ordinance passed by the majority of the council last month authorizing tandem, or stacked, parking with a valet system for major downtown redevelopment projects including the proposed Margaritaville project.

The ordinance passed on a 5-1 vote, with Council President Matt James opposed and Councilman Frank Knight absent, would allow redevelopment projects to meet their minimum parking requirements by deploying tandem, or stacked, parking run by a comprehensive parking management system.

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 as long as a comprehensive parking management plan, or valet service, for example, was in place. In other words, if a project required 100 parking spaces according to the code, 20% of them could be tandem, or stacked spaces, to meet the minimum requirement.

Ostensibly, the code amendment, if approved, would apply to any significant redevelopment project that can’t meet the parking requirements on-site, but the proposed amendment is somewhat specific to major projects already in the planning pipeline, including the Margaritaville project.

On Tuesday, Meehan sent a letter to James and City Clerk Diana Chavis vetoing the council’s approval of ordinance 2022-14, which allows for limited use of valet service-tandem parking for hotel, motel and commercial use in the downtown and upper downtown overlay districts.

“I cannot, in good conscience, support this ordinance as approved,” the letter reads. “It is my understanding that the focus of this ordinance was to address redevelopment of in-fill properties in the downtown and upper downtown areas constrained by the available land of off-street parking.”

During the lead-up to the positive vote by the majority of the council on the ordinance in July, there was considerable debate about the Planning Commission’s role in approving which projects were eligible for the code amendment. In essence, a project would be eligible for the tandem, or stacked, parking exception if hardship could be proven with the lot size or other lot irregularities.

However, after much discussion, the proposed ordinance eliminated the line “subject to the planning commission approval,” which was a sticking point for the mayor, according to the veto letter sent this week.

“The elimination of ‘subject to the planning commission approval’ from the first line of section C of this ordinance eliminates the commission’s ability to first determine if the subject property meets the intent and requirements of this ordinance,” the letter reads.

While he was not opposed to the intent of the ordinance allowing tandem parking with a comprehensive parking management system, such as a valet system, for example, for some projects that demonstrate a need for the exception, Meehan essentially said not all could demonstrate a hardship.

“I believe that the use of service-tandem parking could be beneficial to the redevelopment of properties in the downtown and upper downtown overlay districts that are constrained by lot size or dimensions, but again, I cannot support ordinance 2022-14 as approved,” the letter reads. “I would ask the City Council to sustain this veto and revisit the ordinance.”

The mayor’s veto sets up a potentially interesting override vote. According to the town code, any disapproved ordinance shall not become law unless subsequently passed by a favorable vote of six members of the whole council. With a 5-1 vote to pass the ordinance as written, James was already the lone dissenting vote and Knight was absent. The could make Knight the deciding vote if the other councilmembers stick to their original votes. In the alternative, the council could approve a version of the ordinance amended to the mayor’s satisfaction, for example, putting back in the “subject to the planning commission approval” language or other alterations.

While the ordinance as written would ostensibly apply to any development or redevelopment project in the downtown or upper downtown areas, it has its genesis in the proposed Margaritaville project, a major, restaurant and convention center project encompassing an entire city block between 13th Street and 14th Street.

With the scope of the project, the developers need the tandem parking provision to meet the minimum on-site parking requirements. While the mayor’s veto letter did not mention the Margaritaville project specifically, he made his feelings known about the project’s density and the apparent lack of hardship during the July meeting when the ordinance was approved.

“The redevelopment of in-fill properties in the downtown area is constrained by the availability of land,” he said. “I think that needs to be determined before you can consider whether or not you’re going to allow valet parking. I don’t consider a lot that is 90,000 square feet to be constrained by the availability of parking. The only reason it is constrained is because the property is being overdeveloped.”

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.