(Oct. 5, 2018) The Ocean City Council’s first reading of an ordinance that would attach a sidewalk-widening clause to certain conditional use zoning designations ended up being less than pedestrian.

At issue was whether a measure that would require wider sidewalks on some properties in those circumstances would be tantamount to taking private property.

The zoning code amendments, which carried the endorsement of the Planning Commission, would require 8-foot rather than 5-foot sidewalks in conditional use cases, when feasible.

Councilman Wayne Hartman especially had concerns over adding an additional three feet of sidewalk if it infringes on private property.

“How can we have the city require to put sidewalks on someone’s private property and make it open to the public,” Hartman said during the meeting. “We’re mandating somebody use private property for a public purpose.”

Later this week, however, Planning Director Bill Neville said Hartman’s concern might have been the result of a miscommunication, since the proposed amendment is nowhere near as severe as the council might have believed.

“I think what the planning committee considered in forwarding their recommendation is that this standard is only going to apply to a project that is being proposed for site plan approval,” Neville said on Monday. “That’s not a mandatory situation. This is a landowner who requested their property be developed.”

The amendment was created in order to create more 8-foot-wide sidewalks in areas where construction is underway, or being planned. Completed projects and currently finished locations are not being considered.

Private property is not at risk of losing land or ownership as a result of the amendment, he said.

“This may not work in every location,” Neville said. “This will not affect residential areas on the bayside. Not unless they file a site plan.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with the director, and believes the additional three feet could make the resort a better place.

“It may be done with an easement or some other agreement, I think that’s perfectly fine,” Meehan said. “I think the goal should be to try to throughout our community make it a more livable, walkable community. I think that’s the most important thing.”

The ordinance eventually reached a vote, though all parties involved agreed amended language and new suggestions were required before returning to the council for a second reading. The council vote was 6-1, with Hartman being the only opposed.

The Department of Planning and Community Development will meet to revise and clarify the ordinance today (Friday) in order to incorporate the correct language and alleviate concerns.

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