Non-Conformity May Be Tackled By Zones In OC
OCEAN CITY - The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss two code amendments that could adversely affect parking in the entire resort.
The hearing was held to consider amendments limiting the number of off-street parking spaces that may be approved with reduced design standards and another that would consider restricting the continuance of nonconforming parking when a redevelopment involves a change of land use.
As for the first amendment that looks to reduce the maximum amount of compact parking an establishment can seek to a 25-percent limit, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith opened the hearing by explaining how the process currently works.
'The design code currently permits the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to grant parking exceptions and reduction of parking requirements and design standards in any district whenever the character of these, of the building or land, such as to make unnecessary the full provision of the parking facilities,' he said.
In the past, if applicants presented a strong enough case, they could have any number of their spaces be a compact size even though there was an unwritten 25-percent limit guideline, something the BZA and City Council is looking to codify so the board has a rationale when considering parking exceptions instead of being open ended.
As Smith pointed out, this is an important issue since Ocean City is a town traveled to primarily by car.
As for city standards now, Smith said the city goes by a one-size-fits-all policy with a nine-foot by 20-foot parking space. When compact parking exceptions are sought, those spaces have a standard size of eight feet by 18 feet.
'We have adopted 8-foot wide, 18-foot depth in the upper downtown and lower downtown areas because of the nature of the properties and the use of the properties,' Smith said. 'We felt that was appropriate for downtown because of the old town development that exists and how hard it is to retrofit.'
Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin then spoke, reiterating that any decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the 25-percent ceiling wouldn't affect the downtown overlay districts since their design standards and incentives allow them to reach a maximum of 50 percent.
Regan Smith, a lawyer with Williams Hammond Moore Shockley & Harrison P.A., then offered up his concerns regarding the amendment, saying it would only cripple properties whose lots are smaller, such as the 50-foot by 100-foot lots downtown.
'If you limit your nonconforming spaces, nothing can be done with that property because the change of use or any type of change when we have to go for any type of zoning approval means we can only have 25 percent nonconforming parking and it's only got two spaces to begin with, so what we supposed to do with that?' he asked.
Smith said placing a ceiling on the amount of nonconforming spaces only digresses from what the commission was made for in the first place, to deal with these types of issues on a case-by-case basis.
'My point is, by limiting the Board of Zoning Appeals to what they can do, you're eliminating what they are exactly designed to do which is deal with unique situations that come up,' he said.
From there, the commission moved to the second part of the hearing which sought to weigh whether it should modify parking nonconformity on a change of use property.
Change of use can include a commercial property becoming residential, a residential property becoming commercial, or just a commercial becoming commercial again such as a restaurant becoming a store.
Concerning commercial to commercial change of use, the commission was leaning toward leaving that aspect alone and focused more on commercial becoming residential, such as that of the Smuggler's Cay property.
Before, nonconformity for the commercial property allowed it to have less than ideal parking but a switch to residential would greatly up the demand for parking in that area.
'We've hung our hat on the fact that it detrimentally effects the neighborhood if we force the owners of these new condos to go park on the streets all around their homes,' said Planning Commissioner Peck Miller, explaining that the parking burden shouldn't fall on neighboring properties when a condo doesn't provide sufficient parking.
Realizing that looking at nonconformity issues dealing with the city as a whole would not work, commissioners began to ride on the idea that maybe the amendments would be best if looked at in different, individual zones.
Commissioner Lauren Taylor thinks taking it zone by zone and creating standards for each so as to address these issues in certain areas, with more specific parameters, would be ideal.It was then decided that the commission would continue the public hearing on a later date when all the members could attend a work session that would bring them up to date on the issues regarding the different zones and how these amendments would adversely affect them, especially in the areas south of 17th Street.