(April 18, 2014) The Ocean City Development Corporation’s latest proposed revision of the city’s downtown design code, currently making its way through the Planning and Zoning Commission, would call for centralized plans for storm water and waste management.
Some concern was heard that the plans would open the door for undue restriction on downtown growth, or that the storm water plan could turn into a soft roll-out of the state’s dreaded stormwater utility policy.
“I just want it to stay voluntary, and I think this goes down the road to make it mandatory when it may not be in everybody’s interest,” said Commissioner Lauren Taylor.
Although OCDC is a private, non-profit group, it is authorized by the city to make formal reviews and recommendations of the city’s land use and development policy when it comes to the downtown area.
Already, OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said, centralized trash setups have proved fruitful by eliminating the need for each individual parcel of land to have its own dumpster and access plan for city pickups.
“A lot of times, collection of trash drives the site plan, which should not be the case but unfortunately has been,” Irwin said.
By formally recognizing those locations with integrated trash plans, the city could offer incentives – such as reducing the amount of required parking for a site, a frequent issue when grandfathered sites wish to expand their usage.
The same philosophy would apply to a “master plan” for storm water drainage – but that initiative would involve the xtra baggage of looming state regulations.
Last year, Maryland began requiring some communities – not yet Ocean City – to create a storm water utility to deal with drainage issues.
The city currently charges environmental impact fees for new developments which create impervious surfaces, which lead to increased runoff during rains. However, the town does not yet charge a recurring fee pegged to the cost of the city’s storm drainage system upgrades, which is what the state would require under the so-called “rain tax.”
“That is one possible way of how to pay for storm water master plan improvements,” said Planning and Community Development Director Matt Margotta. “We currently have a plan, but perhaps it’s not working as well as it should. We’re talking about looking at the system and upgrading it.”
In its current guise, Margotta said, the plan is not geared toward charging a stormwater tax and is more geared toward determining the standards that each property must adhere to.
“The city’s responsibility is that, at some point, we need to know what’s going to come off that property and onto ours, and we’re going to have to filtrate it or something like that,” Margotta said.
However, the proposed language that would allow OCDC and the city to “create a master plan” for both storm water and trash collection was a broad stroke for the commission.
“Once there’s a master plan, it suggests everyone has to do it,” Taylor said.
“If it says ‘create,’ that means we’re creating something that we may not want,” said Commission Chair Pam Buckley, who suggested the language be changed to read “promote” instead.
OCDC’s other major requested revision was to allow electronic signage slightly further south than had previously been permitted, down to the north side of North Division Street.
Signs could be no larger than 12 square feet, and could not change message any more than once in five seconds.
“I don’t think that’s something we should be deciding tonight,” Buckley said. “That’s a whole lifestyle change for this area.”
The commission vote to move the revision forward without the signage change, and with the revised master plan language. A public hearing on electronic signs is upcoming.