Resort Comprehensive Plan Update Nears

Resort Comprehensive Plan Update Nears
File Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY— Ocean City’s required comprehensive plan update will largely be done in house, resort officials decided last week.

During last week’s joint session between the Mayor and Council and the Ocean City Planning Commission, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville provided an update on the state-mandated comprehensive plan update. Ocean City’s comprehensive plan, a road map of sorts for the future direction of the resort, was last updated in 2017.

All jurisdictions across Maryland are required to update their comprehensive plans every five years in keeping with state guidelines, and the clock is ticking on the resort to begin its revision. Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville explained the process during Tuesday’s joint session. He said Ocean City is somewhat unique in that the 10-mile barrier island is already largely developed, compared to a rural area for example wrestling with land-use issues between increased development or preserving agricultural land, for example.

“Our general characteristics haven’t changed,” he said. “We’re essentially a built-out community so what we largely look at is redevelopment.”

Neville said the state requires all communities to update their comprehensive plans every five years. He said because of the length of the process, not all jurisdictions are on the same page in terms of the timing of their updates. Neville said for that reason, the state has altered its timeline for all jurisdictions to update their plans.

“We are under this timeframe,” he said. “My understanding is the state target date is 2023, but the state changed the window to 2025. The planning commission will discuss every chapter of the comprehensive plan at its regular meetings.”

Neville said the process is tedious, but necessary. Much of the work can be done in-house, although there could be a possibility to bring in an outside consultant to assist with the finished product. The question raised was does the council want the planning commission to embark on the process at the beginning of the year.

“It took two-and-a-half years to do that in-house review,” he said. “Would you like to begin that process on January 1, or would you rather put out a request for proposal for a consultant and create a whole new plan?”

Neville said while not much has changed since the town’s current comprehensive plan was adopted in 2017, there are certain requirements from the Maryland Department of Planning (MDOP) that need to be explored in the updated plan, including the growing affordable housing issue.

“There are two new elements that must be included,” he said. “There is a renewed focus on the housing issue. Every community should have a variety of types of available housing and a variety of affordability. Ocean City for the most part is already doing what MDOP is asking for.”

When asked if he preferred the planning commission and staff begin working on an updated comprehensive plan or hire a consultant to complete the task, Neville said he preferred the former.

“I would recommend the first option,” he said. “I think it would provide a steady hand on the ship’s wheel. We can use the same framework and add new ideas.”

Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley agreed the town’s planners and staff might be better equipped to complete an update of the town’s comprehensive plan.

“It’s the timing the staff has to do it,” she said. “I like working with the staff on this. We are basically built out, so this is more like a fine tuning. An outside consultant might not understand those nuances.”

Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis said not all of the goals in the 2017 update have been accomplished and those leftover items should be key components of the updated plan.

“In the 2016-2017 update, we had a laundry list of priorities,” he said. “We’re looking for some guidance from the council because on some of the items, we really haven’t scratched the surface. It’s not a bad thing, because that means we’ve all been busy. Maybe we need to move some of these things forward in the updated plan.”

Gillis said code changes, including a series of ongoing and pending code amendments should be part of the comprehensive plan update process.

“We see flaws in the code and we see gaps and we try to address them in a positive way,” he said. “I still think we need to keep trying to address them.”

After some debate, the consensus was to proceed with the plan for the planning commission and the staff to begin working on an update to the comprehensive plan in advance of the state’s deadline, with the option to consider a consultant on certain elements. Councilman Peter Buas made a motion to that effect and it passed 6-1 with Councilman John Gehrig opposed.

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.