OCEAN CITY — Mayor Rick Meehan said that when it comes to development, “more is not always better”, but when it comes to public input, he would be content with even the slightest bit.
The City Council held off on a vote to amend Chapter 110 entitled ‘Zoning’, which deals with residential development in commercial zones, as it was concerned the public had little idea of how the substantial changes to the ordinance would impact almost 2,400 properties.
Simply put, in efforts to ensure that future developmental growth in Ocean City is equal parts residential and commercial, this ordinance would essentially cut residential density in half, according to Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith.
“Currently, in an LC-1 district on the east side of Coastal Highway, you can have one multi-family residential unit per 1,000 square feet of land,” said Smith, “but this ordinance would only allow one residential unit per 1,450 feet of land, so it reduces it by half. On the west side of Coastal Highway, it would decrease it even more from 1 unit per 1,000 to 1 per 2,000.”
As a result, bayside property owners in the LC-1, SC-1, and Bayside Marine Districts could be concerned that their property values might decrease but Smith argues that the town had passed a similar ordinance in 1986 and the effect on property values was actually the opposite.
“The market will set itself based on supply and demand,” said Smith. “In 1986, you could develop 10 properties on the ocean block, and we changed it to four, and when the next real estate boom happened, since there was less supply, those properties sold for much more.”
Meehan agreed with much of what was in this ordinance and conceded that the change in density might be a direct result to of the town’s rapid residential growth during the last building boom, some of it, at the price of commercial properties.
“I’ve always been in favor of a lower density for residential properties because I believe that’s what our comprehensive plan calls for,” said Meehan. “Just think of how bad things could be if we hadn’t cut density in half in 1986 prior to the building boom a few years ago. We are trying to look back, make decisions and plans that will be good for Ocean City in 20 years, too.”
Meehan agreed with the decision to send the ordinance back to the Planning and Zoning Commission so it could have another public hearing after letters are sent out 30 days prior to said hearing, informing the properties potentially impacted by the ordinance.
“I thought that the room was going to be full on this subject when I saw this was on the agenda,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “The fact that no one is here for a big piece of legislation like this is very concerning to me.”
Smith said that the ordinance is just a measure to encourage commercial development and doesn’t prohibit residential.
“We aren’t trying to discourage residential, we just want to make sure that if more growth happens, that there is a good balance between commercial and residential, as I think we saw that we lost a lot of commercial properties during the last boom,” said Smith. “This is a good time to set that in place since we are on a low ebb in the market.”
Meehan said that he knows there will be negative comments at the hearings, but he says that those comments all help the commission come up with a good recommendation to the council.
“I wish people had come to the last few public hearings, and it is a concern that no one did,” said Meehan. “It penalizes the commission if there is no input at a public hearing. It may be an initial shock to overcome at the beginning, but I believe that in the long run, the town will prosper as it grows with this change.”