(Jan. 11, 2019) Proposed zoning code revisions for nonconforming parking requirements sparked a lengthy debate regarding future development downtown during the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Tuesday.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said the topic was discussed at the zoning commission meeting on Dec. 4 and, after failing to reach a consensus, revisions were formulated.
The new proposed code language specifies that parking nonconformity would only be permitted in cases without a change in use, bulk or increase in density. Any changes to those three areas would require the redevelopment plans to meet parking requirements for the new use or added density.
“This still does not prohibit anyone from going to ask for a special parking exception,” he said. “This isn’t changing the authority of the Board of Special Zoning Appeals … that option would still exist.”
After confirming with Hall the zoning changes would apply to the entire resort, Commission Secretary Peck Miller suggested another approach.
“Have we given any consideration to downtown being different than the rest of Ocean City?” he asked.
Miller also asked how the proposed code revision would affect condominium developments involving a change in bulk.
“For condominiums, parking spaces are based on bedroom count,” Hall said. “In multi-family developments, unlike single-family home developments, any accessory room … must be counted as if it’s going to be a bedroom.”
Commission member Joel Brous asked how the code changes would affect a condominium project involving mixed use elements.
Hall said under the proposed revisions, a change in use would negate prior nonconformity determinations.
“All nonconformity goes away,” Commission Chairperson Pam Buckley said.
Attorney Joe Moore, representing downtown property owners Amanda Cropper, the Mathias family and the Harrison Group, questioned the inclusion of language relating to change of use and loss of prior nonconformities.
“So, any change in use …. simply goes back to zero and I do not have any nonconformity I had in the old use?” he asked. “What is the purpose of that?”
Quoting directly for the city’s code regulations, Moore said the idea behind special regulations for nonconforming uses and structures is to encourage preservation, revitalization and redevelopment.
“My question rhetorically, what is the detriment to the use of land if the parking nonconformity is not intensified?” he asked. “I’m at a loss to know why … ‘change of use’ is in there.”
Moore said redevelopment projects with increased density or bulk that are unable to meet the new parking or other requirements can seek a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“To take away the [BZA] discretion, which either stifles or ... in many instances prohibits redevelopment … is detrimental to the code,” he said.
Moore said the code revisions would hamper downtown redevelopment.
Buckley said the option to seek special exceptions from the Board of Zoning Appeals would still remain.
“If they feel your case would justify giving you … more parking credits in a particular location,” she said.
Moore argued that if previous parking credits were negated through a change of use, the subsequent exception request would be exponentially larger.
“It exacerbates in a significant way the burden of proof I have to the Board of Zoning Appeals,” he said. “I don’t see the harm of change of use if it does not exacerbate parking nonconformity.”
Commission member Lauren Taylor said different uses have varying parking requirements under zoning code.
“If you’re going to change the use, that means you’re going to change the parking requirements,” she said. “You need to evaluate the new use and its parking based on its use, not on what used to be there.”
Moore suggested the term “use” be removed from the language revisions.
Miller said there were larger issues to consider in terms of downtown parking.
“We’ve had nonconformity downtown forever and it has not fostered the growth that we’d like to see,” he said. “There is the opinion … and I think I subscribe to it, that we need parking garages downtown.”
With adequate parking facilities on the resort’s south end, Miller opined the use of nonconformities would be significantly, if not wholly, reduced.
“We have bigger issues downtown we need to address,” he said.
Commission member Joe Wilson asked if developing a parking garage should occur before revising parking requirements.
Moore agreed with Wilson’s assertion while reiterating that the proposed language would stifle redevelopment.
“We have a philosophical disagreement with the fact that parking nonconformity, which has been recognized in this town since it had zoning, is suddenly detrimental to the area, including the downtown area,” he said.
Taylor fired back that the use of nonconformity parking exceptions has proven to be detrimental.
“Every project that’s come in, all the restaurants downtown on the waterfront have bought additional lots for offsite parking so that they can meet the … requirements for the use,” she said. “You can change the use if you want you just have to make it work so it’s not a public problem.”
Moore next suggested redevelopment projects should be permitted to retain previous special parking exceptions if the proposed change in use doesn’t exacerbate parking or other site issues.
“’Change of use’ is where I’m hung,” he said.
Wilson asked if “change of use” was removed from the language revisions, if in fact any change would be involved.
“Isn’t that how we do it right now?” he asked.
Moore again agreed with Wilson, while noting the decision to increase parking downtown, or elsewhere in the resort, rests with the mayor and City Council.
“If you do this without resolving the problem that everybody says is the issue, which is beyond our control ... you’ve gotten the chicken before the egg hatches,” he said.
Following the public hearing, the zoning commission vote deadlocked at 3-3, with Buckley, Miller and Taylor opposed to the language changes, and Wilson, Joel Brous and Chris Shanahan in favor. Commission member Palmer Gillis was absent.
Again failing to reach a consensus, the commission will consider further language revisions and revive the discussion at a subsequent meeting.
Hall agreed that removing the change of use condition leaves the code language essentially unchanged.
“Change of use is what really kicks in the parking problems we face in some parts of the city today,” he said. “With code changes that spark this much debate perhaps we need to think what’s causing the problem.”