City Council Meeting Highlights: No Shuttle Service for White Marlin Open and Air Show; Fox Sun and Surf Theatre to Begin Offering Drive-In Movies

City Council Meeting Highlights: No Shuttle Service for White Marlin Open and Air Show; Fox Sun and Surf Theatre to Begin Offering Drive-In Movies

No Shuttle Services for OC Air Show and White Marlin Open

The Ocean City Council voted to not provide a shuttle to both the White Marlin Open (August 3rd-7th) and the OC Air Show (August 14th-16th) due to coronavirus concerns along with a lower demand for transit services.

Hal Adkins, Director of Public Works, spoke before the mayor and council about the state of public transportation in the COVID-19 era and the impacts of having a shuttle service for the two events. Pointing to reduced ridership on public transit due to the pandemic, Adkins said that simply preparing for and anticipating riders on regular buses will suffice. The council concurred.

The White Marlin Open has added a location at 3rd Street to reduce crowd sizes at Harbour Island. Drivers will be instructed to take those wishing to attend the tournament to 3rd Street.

For those who wish to see the Thunderbirds and other planes take to the sky during the OC Air Show, there will be a bus that leaves from the convention center to the beaches.

More details regarding the buses will be provided by organizers of both events.

The council also voted to reserve eight parking spots for the White Marlin Open on the corner of 3rd Street and St. Louis Avenue from August 1st-August 7th. Additionally, Chicago Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets will be closed from August 3rd-7th, and vehicles will be diverted left down Bayview Lane to 2nd Street.

Drive-in Movies at the Fox Sun and Surf Theatre

The Fox Sun and Surf Movie Theatre Sign in 2014

While retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses can reopen under Governor Larry Hogan’s latest executive order, movie theaters are still being forced to keep their doors closed. The Fox Sun and Surf Theatre on 143rd Street took matters into their own hands by asking the town for a temporary conditional use permit to allow drive-in movies in their parking lot. This permit is similar to those that were granted to restaurants for outdoor seating in their parking lots before indoor dining was permitted. The council approved the theatre’s request.

Movies will be projected onto the back of the building and sound will be broadcast to cars through FM radio. You must purchase tickets along with concessions online. If you wish to enter the building to use the restroom, a mask is required.

The proposal received praise from Council Secretary Mary Knight and others, but Councilmember Dennis Dare had a few questions for the theatre before giving his approval. Dare expressed his concerns about noise and the time that the movies will end since residencies are nearby. He also said he is nervous about inappropriate R rated movies being visible to younger children passing by. Fortunately, noise will not be a problem because viewers must stay in their cars, and thus, the sound from their radios will not project outside. Additionally, the council proposed a 1 a.m. closing time for the theatre, which plans to present two features a night. As for inappropriate movies, there are no guarantees that inappropriate scenes will not be visible, though adult movies will be shown later in the evening.

COVID-19 Data and Testing

As Ocean City pushes to promote tourism this summer, the coronavirus is fighting back. COVID-19 has indeed spiked in Ocean City since the summer season began and in response, many restaurants are temporarily closing their doors. On Memorial Day, Worcester County reported 185 cases of COVID-19. That number has now dramatically increased by 125% to 417. Since Independence Day, cases have increased by 43%.

Free tests are available in Worcester County at the West Ocean City Park and Ride on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Testing is by appointment only and you must bring ID. The latest data shows that 12.6% of the Worcester County population has been tested for COVID-19.

City Manager Doug Miller did provide a COVID-19 update and said that 864 people have been tested at the West Ocean City Park and Ride. He added that 682 more appointments are scheduled and that health officials are looking to add a day for testing due to high demand.

Governor Hogan asked town officials to use the convention center for testing on Friday and Saturday mornings. 120 people have been tested so far at that location.

Masks ON! Mayor and Council Mandate Masks in City Hall

Councilmember John Gehrig, who was the only member of the council sporting a mask for most of the meeting, spoke about the importance of taking safety precautions due to COVID-19. “People choose to social distance in most cases, and that is the best safety precaution. But if we are going to have events and people are going to congregate, you have to put on the masks, and promoters should be putting out those policies.,” said Gehrig.

After, Mayor Rick Meehan announced a new safety measure for City Hall. “We need to lead by example, and we should make it a mandate in here to wear a mask. Why don’t we all decide that this is what we are going to do? Everybody wears a mask now.,” said Meehan.

Members of the public also spoke throughout the evening encouraging others to wear masks. Their messages clearly resonated with town officials and prompted quick action.

Tourism Commission Meeting

Council Secretary Mary Knight discussed the highlights from the latest Ocean City Tourism Commission meeting, which was held on July 13th. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association discussed the possibility of recruiting people from Puerto Rico to work in Ocean City. Businesses across the resort town have been understaffed this year without the 4,000 J-1 workers that usually arrive. The cultural exchange program relies on federal work visas, which are banned until the end of the year. With much uncertainty surrounding the program, business leaders are readying an alternative for next summer to ensure that the hospitality industry is fully staffed.

Other highlights include successful advertising campaigns from the town of Ocean City and updated Department of Special Event policies for COVID-19.

Police Commission Update

Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro provided an update on statistics from June. Officer Calls for Services were down significantly while Citizen Calls for Services were up dramatically. Many of those calls were about violations of city ordinances and disorderly behavior. According to the meeting minutes, “The OCPD prioritized enforcement of disorderly calls and in securing scenes which led to a drop in certain ordinance enforcement.” Alcohol violations decreased, however, collisions and noise complaints increased.

Another issue pointed out by Chief Buzzuro was the nearly 500% increase in smoking citations issued on the Boardwalk. During Monday night’s meeting, Buzzuro said, “As we know, four years ago, Maryland decriminalized marijuana 10 grams or less, and now it’s a civil citation…so there has been an increase in usage. What’s also confusing is CBD, which is sold by some stores on the Boardwalk.” He also discussed that visitors and residents who smoke marijuana for medical purposes could be doing so legally from their balconies, which allows the smell to travel to the ground.

Council Secretary Mary Knight said that the council has been getting many calls and emails about the smell, though the town has no control over the decriminalization. She added that you can always contact the state legislature with your concerns.

Finally, the town is looking to review Ocean City Ordinance 2019-10 because it does not include e-bikes.

Approval of Special Events

The council voted unanimously to approve the Eastern Surfing Association’s event for August 8th or 9th. It was previously scheduled for June 20th but was postponed due to no surf.

The council also approved a new date for the US Marine Corps Senior Week event. It will take place in conjunction with the OC Air Show from August 14th to 16th. The interactive event offers challenges and USMC gear.

Approval of Ordinances

Councilmembers voted to ratify an amendment to Ordinance 2020-06, which addresses shoreline construction. The Ordinance was first approved on July 6th, but the amendment “is proposed to clarify the MDE standard allowing a maximum one-time encroachment channel-ward for bulkhead replacement provided that the minimum 40-foot-wide navigable waterway remains open.”

After a lengthy discussion, Resolution 2020-09 was approved. The resolution aims to incentivize establishing a permanent residence in Ocean City. According to the council agenda, “Resolution 2020-09 establishes a two-year pilot incentive/rebate primary residence incentive program to promote housing affordability for new year-round residents and to implement Ocean City’s strategic plan goals for livable neighborhoods for all families.” Included in the program is a building permit fee waiver of up to $7,500 for “new or substantially approved primary residences” and a tax rebate of up to $2,500 if you are a new primary resident. There was much confusion over the new Ordinance and Councilmember DeLuca wanted to hold off on a vote and discuss it further, though clarification from City Solicitor Heather Stansbury helped push it through unanimously.

Public Comment – Impact of OC Air Show on Parasailing Companies

A member of the public spoke before the council about how the restricted airspace during the OC Air Show impacts parasailing companies throughout the city. Usually, the event is held in June, when fewer tourists are in town. Now, the restricted airspace could keep parasails out of the sky for many hours across several days in August, which will undoubtedly hurt business. Special Event Director Frank Miller offered to work with operators on finding ways to limit the amount of time that parasails have to stay grounded.

Next Meeting

The next Ocean City Council meeting is scheduled for August 17th at 6 p.m. However, officials indicated that a meeting may be added on August 3rd to provide an additional opportunity for the public to speak, especially during these unprecedented times.

To view the full council agenda packet from Monday’s meeting, click here.

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