With a petition drive recently verified as successful, the Ocean City Mayor and Council will have a decision to make – a special election soon or include a referendum with the 2024 election?
At issue is a 20-foot conveyance of the eastside of Baltimore Avenue to the Margaritaville property to allow it to meet the planned overlay district requirement. The conveyance of the property was deemed necessary for the project to move forward, and the Mayor and Council swiftly granted the property transfer.
Ocean City’s move to give the property to the Margaritaville project will most likely be the first of many, as part of the massive Baltimore Avenue corridor reconstruction project has always been to abandon and convey the unused right-of-way along Baltimore Avenue back to the property owners. Margaritaville happened to be the first. There will be many more eventually as property owners learn about the city’s intention.
The petition challenged the specific ordinance that conveyed the property to Margaritaville. Along with her concerns the city has approved numerous exceptions for the Margaritaville property, petition coordinator Margaret Pillas feels, “parking is greatly needed for the downtown area. The highest and best use for these 16 blocks where the easement allows would also be to provide additional needed parking. Why prematurely abandon this city property when we do not even know when the enhancements to Baltimore Avenue will be done due to the exorbitant cost estimates.”
The petition needed 612 qualified signatures to be successful and place the matter on the ballot before voters. There were 825 signatures turned in by petitioners with 639 of those deemed valid.
No decision on what to do next was made at this week’s council meeting after the petition results were verified. There are essentially only two options – allow voters to let their voices be heard on the matter through a special election or hold the decision until the next municipal election in 2024. There is precedent for the city holding a one-referendum special election. Turnout was low and that would surely be the case again this time around.
No matter, we favor a special election over waiting until the 2024 election. There will be increased costs associated with holding an election, which will most likely be mired in poor turnout as all special elections are. We think two years is too long to wait to decide the issue.
If a special election is the chosen course, the timing of when it’s held will be key for the best possible turnout. We favor a spring vote in April over pushing it to the fall. Early May is an option as well.
We think delaying to the fall or waiting until 2024 would be the wrong call in this case.