OCEAN CITY – The mayor’s veto of an ordinance passed in July that would allow for tandem, or stacked, parking for some major downtown redevelopment projects including the proposed Margaritaville project was sustained by the majority of the council on Tuesday after a spirited debate.
The ordinance passed in July on a 5-1 vote, with Council President Matt James opposed and Councilman Frank Knight absent, would allow redevelopment projects in the downtown and upper downtown areas 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.
In August, Mayor Rick Meehan formally vetoed the council majority’s passage of the ordinance through a letter to James and City Clerk Diana Chavis. Meehan said in the letter he could not in good conscience support the ordinance as approved for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the deletion of certain language in it that removed planning commission review of requested tandem or stacked parking plans for new development projects.
The council could override the mayor’s veto of the tandem parking ordinance, but it would take a majority of six votes to override the veto. With a 5-1 vote on the original ordinance, it remained a possibility the votes would be there to get the six needed to override the veto.
However, after a lengthy debate on Tuesday, the majority of the council reversed their decision on the original ordinance and voted to sustain the mayor’s veto, essentially killing the ordinance as proposed. Five councilmembers voted on Tuesday to sustain the mayor’s veto, while two were in favor of overriding the ordinance veto. City Solicitor Heather Stansbury explained at the outset the council had 60 days to renew the debate about the veto and explained it would take six yea votes to override it.
“The ordinance as written is not project-specific,” she said. “If six of you don’t vote to override the mayor’s veto, the veto will be sustained.”
Although no amended plans have yet been presented for the Margaritaville project, it appears the developers may have found an alternative to tandem parking in order to meet the parking requirements for the project. Council Secretary Tony DeLuca alluded to as much on Tuesday.
“The way this reads is adding tandem or stacked parking,” he said. “I’ve heard there is no further need for tandem or stacked parking.”
Again, Stansbury reiterated the ordinance was not specific to Margaritaville, but that project was certainly the genesis of it.
“The purpose of this was not to grant the Margaritaville project tandem parking,” she said. “It was written to include the entire area where the project may or may not happen.”
Councilman John Gehrig questioned the process and asked if the council was required to take any action on the mayor’s veto on Tuesday.
“This requires action within 60 days,” he said. “We’re at around day 30. If they don’t need it anymore, we don’t have to take action.”
Stansbury explained the town code was very specific about overriding mayoral vetoes.
“You have a very narrow issue in front of you,” she said. “If you don’t vote with six votes, the veto is sustained. You can bring this back for further discussion. You would never pass an ordinance specific to a single project. You can’t amend the ordinance tonight. The veto kills to ordinance.”
For his part, Meehan was very clear he did not intend to rescind his veto of the ordinance.
“My letter is very specific to this ordinance as written,” he said. “I haven’t changed my mind. By eliminating ‘subject to planning commission approval’ makes it arbitrary. It’s not just the size of the project. It’s the impact on the surrounding areas. An overlay district is very subjective.”
Stansbury said Tuesday’s requirement was only to address the mayor’s veto of the ordinance within the prescribed timeframe.
“I think we’re confusing the process,” she said. “Tonight isn’t about that. You have a lot of things you want to discuss, but the issue you have before you tonight has a very narrow window. The timing of this is very precise.”
City Manager Terry McGean explained what action the council had before them on Tuesday.
“The only thing you can do tonight is take no action and the ordinance doesn’t pass, if six of you could vote to override,” he said. “You cannot change the ordinance tonight. The ordinance is the ordinance right now.”
Gehrig said he supported overriding the veto because the ordinance as written defined clear rules for tandem parking without a lot of gray areas for the planning commission, and eventually the Mayor and Council to decide.
“The one thing I don’t want is too many human beings touching it,” he said. “Human beings got us to this point tonight. Tandem parking should be allowed by right of all of the other requirements are met.”
Gehrig made a motion to override the mayor’s veto, a motion seconded by Councilman Peter Buas, who agreed the ordinance as presented and passed by the majority of the council was not specific to the Margaritaville project.
“This isn’t about one project,” he said. “It’s another tool in the toolbox for properties that might be redeveloped in the downtown area.”
For his part, Meehan said his veto was steeped in the section about planning commission approval, but he still had overriding concerns about the scale and scope of the Margaritaville project specifically.
“Although the focus on the veto is on the planning commission approval, there are other elements to this,” he said. “The ordinance says ‘constrained by the availability of land for on-site parking. I still don’t believe a 90,000 square-foot parcel is constrained by the availability of on-site parking. I’ve been consistent about that from the beginning.”
Councilman Mark Paddack said he was in favor of sustaining the mayor’s veto of the ordinance.
“There is a motion on the floor to override the mayor’s veto,” he said. “I am going to sustain the mayor’s veto. Let’s come up with something that works. Let’s go back to the drawing board and figure this out. I will sustain the mayor’s veto.”
When the vote was called, five councilmembers including James, DeLuca, Knight, Paddack and Councilman Lloyd Martin all voted to sustain the mayor’s veto of the ordinance. Gehrig and Buas were the only two councilmembers to vote to override the veto. Thus, the vote was 5-2 to sustain the veto.
Later during the public comment period of the meeting, the issue arose again. Gehrig questioned the reversal on the vote by the majority of his colleagues, some of whom appear to have intimate knowledge of certain changes of plans for the Margaritaville project.
“We went from 5-1 to 2-5 with no explanation other than it seems like four people know what’s going on,” he said. “There is knowledge somewhere that most of us seem to have and that’s probably not cool.”
Paddack said he changed his vote after consulting with the mayor about the veto and dismissed Gehrig’s notion that some on the council seem to have more information about changes to the Margaritaville plans than others.
“I sat down with the mayor,” he said. “I went straight to the horse’s mouth. I have no idea what the lawyers are doing with Margaritaville. You come up with these conspiracy theories and present this stuff that other people know stuff that you don’t. I don’t know whether they still need the tandem parking or not.”
Meehan said he supports the planned overlay district concept, and it has worked in other areas. He said his veto of the ordinance was not opposition to the planned overlay district concept for the proposed Margaritaville project or any other project specifically.
“The overlay district itself, and I support the concept, allows for subjective variances to the rules,” he said. “It’s not like a typical development on a typical parcel where you can build this many units with this many parking spaces.”