Planners, Council Debate Parking Garage Amendment; Divided Council Questions Necessity

OCEAN CITY — It might not be what’s stored in a two-vehicle parking garage but rather the size of the parking spaces themselves, resort officials decided this week.

For several months, the Ocean City Planning Commission worked on a proposed code amendment that would require enclosed two-vehicle parking garages for new multi-family development projects. The issue arose out of concerns about the lack of sufficient off-street parking, or parking for units that is contained on the property.

In some cases, the lack of sufficient off-street parking has led to residents and visitors parking on the streets, causing a strain on the neighborhoods in which a project is located. In other cases, a multi-family dwelling or townhouse project might have two garage spaces per unit, but at least one of the spaces becomes a storage area filled with lawn equipment, beach chairs, jet skis and the like, necessitating more parking on the town’s public streets.

To that end, the planning commission crafted a proposed code amendment that would have, if passed by the council, required developers to provide enclosed two-vehicle garages for each unit of a project, and to require the property owners use the garage spaces for their intended purposes and not park on the streets in their neighborhoods. However, when the proposed code amendment was presented to the Mayor and Council for approval earlier this fall, it was removed from the agenda without discussion.

The result was an apparent rift between the planning commission and the elected officials over the elimination of that proposed code amendment and others without any discussion or at least lip service. During a second joint session between the Mayor and Council and the planning commission on Tuesday, the issue of the parking garage code amendment dismissal was broached by Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis.

“Our job is to protect the neighborhoods,” he said. “We’re volunteers and citizen planners, not development planners. The planning commissioners all agreed with enclosed garage parking for multi-family dwellings. When we see flaws and errors, our job is to look at solutions. I was a little upset when the council just dismissed it out of hand. We spent months on that issue, and I encourage the Mayor and Council to take another look at it.”

Councilman Peter Buas, who has opposed the proposed code amendment from the beginning, said on Tuesday he did not believe the parking garage issue needed any more consideration.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” he said. “For years, we’ve encouraged townhouse projects. It’s what people want and there is a demand for them. I get that people fill their garages with other stuff, but that’s not a zoning issue, it’s an enforcement issue.”

Mayor Rick Meehan asked what the point was of requiring developers to provide enclosed two-space parking garages if they weren’t being used for their intended purpose.

“The bottom line is, if we’re building garages but they can’t be used for parking, why are we building them?” he said. “Parking is so important. In real estate, three questions potential buyers ask are how much is it, what are the homeowner fees, and do I have parking?”

Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley agreed multi-family development projects such as townhouses, for example, were becoming increasingly popular in the resort, but questioned how the garage spaces were being defined in terms of meeting the town’s parking requirements.

“I completely support townhouse development,” she said. “It’s become a big issue on the appraisal side. Is it a one-car garage or a two-car garage? It’s come to the point people are now calling them a one-and-a-half car garage.”

Gillis said the issue could be addressed through the code amendment process without putting the undue burden on staff to enforce how the garage spaces were being utilized.

“The staff doesn’t have the time to be garage police,” he said. “We have a changeover every week. It’s not the town’s responsibility to provide on-street parking for developers so they can meet the code. They will say they need this many spots to make a project work financially, but hardship is not a reason to allow them to build these so-called two-car garages and have people parking out on the public street when the garages are full or not sufficiently sized to hold two vehicles. If they have to, they can eliminate a unit or two to meet their on-site parking needs.”

Planning Commissioner Kevin Rohe said the two-car parking garage issue merited further debate without being immediately dismissed by the council.

“We need to pay attention to this,” he said. “I think we need to regulate this because we have a density issue. The town is approaching 97% built out. We have to look at this practically. If they have to lose a unit to meet their requirements, so be it.”

City Manager Terry McGean said it appeared to be a two-pronged issue. On the one hand, some are using designated garage space for storage purposes, which would be an enforcement issue, while the other was the size of the spaces in the garages allowed under the current code.

“I don’t know what was most objectionable for the council,” he said. “For me, the biggest was probably how we enforce that the space inside a garage is usable. I do think there is merit to ensuring the garage spaces are the size appropriate to meet the code. Maybe it’s worth having those two issues separated.”

Councilmember Carol Proctor said the garage parking issues were not limited to new multi-family development projects.

“Look at Ocean City as a whole,” she said. “What about a three-bedroom condo that only has one designated parking space. There has to be a point when we have to let people make their own decision if they want to buy a three-bedroom that only has one parking space.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury, who chaired the joint session, said there appeared to be three options on the table. The code amendment regarding garage parking in multi-family projects was dismissed by the council earlier this year and removed from the agenda without discussion. One option was determining if there was a will among the council to have the planning commission revisit the issue and come back with a recommendation, or simply let it go without any more discussion.

There was a motion made to not consider the code amendment related to garage parking for townhouse projects at all. Council President Matt James suggested a solution could be requiring a developer to provide an enclosed parking garage with the spaces sized to actually accommodate two vehicles as the code requires. He said as it stands, the allowable width of the two parking spaces in a two-vehicle garage were often not sufficient to accommodate two vehicles whether was it was filled with other things or not.

“I don’t support the current motion, and I don’t support the ordinance as presented,” he said. “Can we change the size requirements for garage spaces? That seems like it would solve a lot of these issues.”

James called for a vote on the motion to not have the staff direct any more time on the garage parking issue. The motion failed 3-4 with James and Councilmen John Gehrig, Frank Knight and Will Savage opposed, and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, Buas and Proctor in favor. A second motion was then made to remand the issue back to staff to explore and make recommendations on garage parking space sizes and that motion passed 4-3 with the same breakdown among the councilmembers.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

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.