OCEAN CITY – Emergency access and extra parking were pitted against the desires of local residents this week, as the fate of the 144th Street street end was debated before the Mayor and City Council.
Several residents attended the regular session of the Mayor and City Council this week, in an effort to have their voices heard regarding the potential street extension of 144th Street.
“I’m really here to represent my community tonight,” began designated spokesman and 144th Street resident Bret Anderson. “There are few remaining streets in Ocean City that are natural. We’ve all come to love that, living on this street.”
Anderson came before the council with a petition signed by 180 people, a combination of residents and visitors, who are collectively against the paving of the street end at 144th Street, an area that is currently filled with natural habitat, dune grass and sand. The petition and signatures were put together in just one week’s time, said Anderson, adding that during that time, he failed to find anyone who was in favor of the street-end paving.
“Everything is about the green environment,” said Anderson of trends in cities and towns across the country. “It’s about trying to minimize the blacktop.”
Anderson explained to the council that, through his own inquiries, he was informed that the water main would be replaced along Wight Street, which connects 136th Street to 146th Street, north to south. As a result of that, the entire street end would be paved, eliminating the miniature park that has been established at the top of their street. Anderson noted that better parking and access were reasons cited to him for the street end expansion.
“We really don’t see how it would enhance the neighborhood,” he said, adding that parking is really only an issue 10 days of the entire year.
Anderson argued that there are very few streets in Ocean City that have natural dunes at the street end, a scene that often evokes feelings of old-time Ocean City.
“We’ve got people that come to our street because of the natural environment. It’s the Ocean City that brought me to the beach,” he said.
Anderson pointed out that the area is not only an amenity to the residents and visitors of 144th Street, but also a home to turtles, rabbits, hawks, birdhouses and benches.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins was also present at the meeting, explaining the reasons behind street end extensions and paving.
“There is no project at 144th Street at this time,” he said, clearing up any misconceptions, but noting that there is still the possibility for street end paving there in the future.
Adkins explained that the trend for street-end extensions in the past has been to maximize the availability of parking, address ADA parking needs and to increase the accessibility of fire apparatus.
‘If we continue with this policy, [City Engineer] Terry [McGean} has indicated that this would garner between 14 to 16 parking spaces,” said Adkins of 144th Street.
Adkins added that they have run into similar objections from residents on other streets in the past, but the street extensions are ultimately for the good of the general public.
“We believe our street, the way it is, benefits the general public. Ocean City needs not to lose its charm,” pointed out Anderson.
Council member Nancy Howard raised a public safety concern.
“This dune area is lovely, but I have to think about our firemen and their access to these buildings,” said Howard.
“Public safety is extremely important,” agreed Council member Mary Knight.
Ocean City Emergency Services Captain Chuck Barton said the street end could pose some issues in the event of a large-scale fire.
“It could be a problem for getting aerial apparatus into the area,” said Barton.
Council member Jay Hancock agreed with the residents of 144th Street, pointing out the ever-shrinking green space in the resort.
“I think this is a nice, almost park, and we don’t have enough green space in Ocean City anyway,” said Hancock. “This is a little spot that could be spared the bulldozer.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said access is paramount at the street end.
“We face this issue, unfortunately, in many areas of town. I’m not sure there’s a black and white answer to this one,” said Meehan.
“Let’s put a highway right down the entire dune and then we can access everything,” said Anderson facetiously. “We don’t want this. This is the way government is supposed to work – we don’t want it.”
Council member Jim Hall suggested further review of the issue, promising that no action would be taken until the city reviewed all concerns and consulted with all parties involved.
“Let’s put our heads together and figure out what’s the best thing to do,” said Hall.