Commission, Developers Debate New Parking Standards

OCEAN CITY – A discussion on new off-street parking design standards highlighted a recent commission meeting.

Last week, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on a code amendment that would, among other things, increase the number of garage parking spaces and parking dimensions in residential zones. Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville noted the change was meant to address the lack of off-street parking.

“We have a collection of photos that really document what we have identified as a concern and a problem of the use of garage space for storage of personal effects to the extent that it either blocks the off-street parking entirely or only allows for one car in a required two car garage,” he explained. “We also have the issue that what that does is project parking out into the streets and that blocked fire access to units. Also, we feel that some of the garages that are being designed are so tight that they aren’t adequate for larger vehicles.”

As proposed, the change would raise the minimum requirement for multifamily dwellings from two-and-a-half parking spaces to three parking spaces for each three-bedroom unit or townhouse.

“If more than two spaces are required per unit, a minimum of one space per unit shall be open and unenclosed,” Neville added.

Officials noted that the amendment also increases the size of enclosed parking spaces to allow for larger vehicles and added storage space. Neville said the dimensions would increase to 12 feet by 22 feet for a one-car garage, 23 feet by 22 feet for a two-car garage, and 34 feet by 22 feet for a three-car garage. He added that the code revision also clarified that vehicular use areas shall not be used for general storage of objects.

“Not that we’re going to ask everybody to roll the door up to look,” he said, “but if we identify a problem with over parking on the street or blocking private access ways, this becomes, if it’s added to the code, becomes an enforceable provision.”

During the public hearing, local attorney Joe Moore argued the proposed off-street parking changes would impact future development and property values. He suggested a 10-foot-wide parking space.

“The determination of the width of a unit is determinative of what can be built on a piece of property which affects the value of that property,” he said. “So there may be certainly some adjustment that can be done to garage parking. But again we say with respect that we believe that a 12-foot-wide space for a car is simply not necessary.”

Moore added that parking issues in multifamily condominiums could be addressed by a condominium association. Commission Chair Joe Wilson, however, argued that it would not allow staff or commission members to approach a condominium board.

“To me this gives them additional teeth or additional tools to go and regulate based on a citizen complaint rather than wait for someone in the condo association,” he said.

For his part, attorney Regan Smith questioned the proposed parking dimensions. He noted that that the national standard for parking spaces was just over eight feet wide.

“I don’t think any of us have seen the 12-foot space by 22-foot space in any garage anywhere,” he said.

Smith added that the new design standards for parking would also impact density.

“My discussion with some developers is you’re going to lose 15 to 20% of your density because of the change in the in the size,” he said.

Local developer Jeff Thaler said parking standards should be based off the size of a lot. He suggested the commission consider a smaller garage width for narrower lots.

When asked how the proposed off-street parking changes would impact development, Thaler said he could lose up to two units on any given project. Commissioner Palmer Gillis, however, argued that economic impact was not within the purview of the planning commission.

“We aren’t development planners, we are city planners, and our job is to protect the life, safety and welfare of the existing neighborhoods,” he said. “And you’re talking about the number of units. That’s not our place.”

Gillis said he simply wanted something done to address the lack of sufficient off-street parking, as it impacted existing property owners in residential neighborhoods.

“The reality of the situation is no two-car garage is used for two cars,” he said.

Developer Nolen Graves questioned how widespread the parking issue was in town. He said the pictures included in the commission’s packet did not provide context as to when and where they were taken.

“It shows some violations,” he said. “But to try and change an entire code over some photos taken throughout town at different intervals you can’t speak to, I think is disingenuous to the code.”

Graves added that the additional parking requirements would increase costs, impact land use and require developers to start building upward.

“We have to recover land costs and build so many units to make it worth our risk,” he said.

After a lengthy discussion, the commission agreed to consider suggestions made in the public hearing. Gillis said the intent of the code amendment was to comply with the town’s comprehensive plan and park where a person resides.

“If parking spaces are not being provided to residential units that are being developed, then we aren’t complying with that,” he said.

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.