Planning Commission Talks Joint Session, Code Changes

OCEAN CITY – Members of a resort commission say they will begin making necessary code amendments in preparation for a joint meeting with the Mayor and Council this fall.

Following a series of site plan reviews Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission discussed proposed topics to be included in its next joint session with the Mayor and Council.

With a meeting scheduled for the fall, Commissioner Palmer Gillis told members this week they should first focus their efforts on drafting code amendments from the first two joint sessions. He pointed to comments made by Councilman Peter Buas at a Mayor and Council work session earlier this month.

“Mr. Buas has challenged the planning and zoning commission,” he said. “He’s saying we did two joint sessions back to back, we should see forward progress before we have another … He wants to see us produce stuff, code amendments. So with that said, the challenge is on.”

A rift between the Mayor and Council and the commission was first made evident last year, when the council removed two proposed code amendments brought forward by the commission from its August agenda. And last fall, the Mayor and Council and members of the planning and zoning commission met for the first time to clear the air over certain issues.

Over the course of two meetings – one held in September, and another held in December – officials discussed topics such as nonconforming signs, LED lighting, parking, building heights, workforce housing and conditional use approvals, among other things.

And earlier this month, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville presented the Mayor and Council with discussion topics to be addressed at a third joint meeting to be held April 11.

“So the agenda that you have in front of you would essentially provide you with an update on those items the council did provide direction on at the last meeting,” he said at the time.

Buas, however, officials have yet to receive any proposed code amendments from the first two joint meetings. A motion to approve the agenda with a third joint meeting to be held in the fall was approved in a 5-0 vote.

“We did two joint sessions, back to back, and we should see some forward progress before we get to a third one,” Buas said. “I’d like to see it done in the fall, and I make a motion to approve the agenda but push it to a fall calendar date to be determined.”

Revisiting the topic Tuesday, Gillis encouraged the commission to fulfill the council’s wishes and begin drafting code amendments from the first two meetings. He said he wanted to tackle items such as habitable dormers and garage dimensions.

“We had some open doors at the last joint session for attacking the sizes of the garages,” he said. “So I think that’s critically important. Also, I’d like to clean up the setbacks on the bonus space, on the dormitory. Those two things are very high on my list.”

Neville told commission members this week Buas also wanted to see the commission tackle building heights in the downtown area.

“Councilman Buas, I think, would like to make a priority for the alternate method of measuring building height in the downtown districts to allow for an elevated parking level under a building and calculating building height from that first floor up,” he explained. “Instead of counting a garage level as floor number one, it would be floor zero … It has the potential of adding an additional floor.”

Commission members noted a proposed code amendment relating to non-accessory employee housing is currently making its way through the approval process, with a public hearing scheduled for May 2. Officials said that the amendment has the support of the Mayor and Council.

“They approved moving it forward to the May 2 public hearing that has been advertised,” Neville said. “And Councilman Buas had three suggestions he would like to enter into the record as you consider other comments at the public hearing … They all seem on point and perfect for consideration.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.