A change to the Ocean City zoning code that could help large downtown commercial developers meet parking requirements more efficiently is going back to staff members for more review.
City Council members on Tuesday opted not to pass the second reading of a request to add tandem, or stacked, parking in the downtown and upper downtown zoning districts. Instead, they voted to send the request back to planning officials to revisit.
The concept of stacked parking entails having a valet park customers’ cars bumper-to-bumper in a tight arrangement that may require moving several cars to allow one car to exit. The city’s code does not allow for that type of parking at commercial properties.
The ordinance currently states that tandem parking can be used to meet 20 percent of the required parking for a hotel, motel or commercial use property that mandates 100 or more spaces in the downtown or upper downtown area, subject to planning commission approval.
The spaces must be reserved for specific use and managed by a valet and comprehensive parking system, which members of the planning commission will certify for efficiency and effectiveness.
The language also requires that the valet and comprehensive parking system must be in operation at all times with no more than one vehicle stacked behind another, and the second space in the stack counted toward the 20 percent requirement.
A massive Margaritaville resort planned for the oceanside of 13th and 14th streets and Baltimore Avenue was the catalyst for the code change, but planning officials determined it could benefit other future downtown projects as well.
Planning commissioners got first crack at the change, and spent several hours in the spring tweaking the details to their liking. However council members were divided on it. They approved the change’s original language in a 5-2 vote on May 16, and nearly let the idea die at the first reading of the on June 6, when they just managed to meet the threshold for approval with a 4-1 vote.
On May 16, Council President Matt James voted against the change because he said he wants to see the concept applied all over the city, not just downtown. Councilman Peter Buas also voted against it because of the planning commission’s role in project approvals.
At the June 6 meeting, Buas expressed similar concerns, but eventually opted to vote in favor of the ordinance to keep it alive on first reading. With only five council members present at the meeting – Councilmen John Gehrig and Tony DeLuca were absent — four votes were needed to approve the ordinance, and James said he did not intend to budge on his push to broaden the scope of the ordinance to include the whole city.
Buas explained that he does not want to remove planning commissioners from the approval process altogether, he simply wants to narrow their scope of review.
On Tuesday, he introduced a compromise of sorts that sends the change back to planning staff members. The officials will revisit the line, flesh out what the approval process will look like, and make a recommendation for council to review at a future work session.
Buas’ motion also advances discussion of the expansion of the change to the entire city, which Mayor Rick Meehan expressed some concerns about. He said that the working code change has specific language that works for downtown, but may allow for too much density uptown.
“I’m not sure that’s really the direction the public wants us to go,” he said.