(Feb. 1, 2019) The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission, after hearing a public outcry at its last meeting about proposed code revisions for nonconforming parking requirements affecting downtown development, revived the discussion last Wednesday but with a narrower scope.
Planning Director Bill Neville said the public hearing on Jan. 8, which evolved into a wide-ranging discussion involving change of use, followed the planning commission’s failure to reach a consensus on Dec. 4 about amending use of transferable development rights and determinations of parking nonconformity.
“You started on a process that looked at just amending the transfer of the development rights section of the ordinance and then we’ve sort of slid into the broader question of do we need to look at the nonconforming section,” he said.
In early January, the commission deadlocked 3-3, with commissioners Pam Buckley, Peck Miller and Lauren Taylor opposed to the language changes, and members Joe Wilson, Joel Brous and Chris Shanahan in favor. Commission member Palmer Gillis was absent.
Neville advised exercising caution when altering zoning nonconformity requirements related to transferrable development rights.
“What’s contained in there is a protection of property value and peoples’ right to potentially redevelop the existing use of their property,” he said.
Neville said, in addition to weighing concerns from downtown property owners when evaluating changes to parking requirements for redevelopment projects, state code specifies zoning regulations preserve property values, encourage orderly development and control street congestion.
“This leaves you in a position of evaluating which way to go on adopting a code amendment relative to nonconformity and the transfer of development rights,” he said. “You’ve seen a lot of cases of sort of an abuse of the system where the nonconformity led to a situation of still not having one space per room in a new hotel.”
Among four proposed options for amending use of transferrable development rights for parking requirements initially examined in December, Neville said in light of recent public feedback, the discussion would narrow to parking considerations, with a more deliberate process required before altering other sections related to nonconformity.
“It limits it to solving the problem [of] having the transfer of development rights pile onto other variances and nonconformities,” he said.
Under the proposed language revisions, development projects could not receive a determination of nonconformity to meet parking requirements for the portion using transferable development rights to increase base density.
Buckley, while highlighting previous public testimony in support of separating parking needs downtown from the resort as a whole, concurred with the importance of limiting use of code exceptions to skirt calculated parking needs.
“You can’t use a development right and not give it parking,” she said. “It’s not fair to the neighbors and can increase a lot of different ... issues for that neighborhood when you’re bringing in more density.”
Miller said past potential abuses of the zoning exceptions should be curtailed.
“To just grant nonconformity on top of nonconformity is not something I’m really excited about,” he said.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said the proposal ties into an earlier recommendation from the planning commission for special parking exceptions.
“We’ve already recommended to the mayor and City Council that a special parking exception should not be allowed in conjunction with a TDR,” he said.
Wilson confirmed the proposal would not eliminate previous nonconformities and only apply to new development.
“This means if you add a unit, you only need to add parking spaces for that unit,” he said.
Attorney William Esham asked if the changes would eliminate the alternative to seek an exception through the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“You can always go to seek a variance from the BZA,” Hall said.
Miller said the intent is to add zoning predictability for development projects.
“If you’re adding to the density of the project, you’ve got to be code compliant,” he said. “We can say no, but we’ve got nothing we can stick our teeth into. We can allow it, but we can’t necessarily prohibit it if someone wants to fight it.”
Wilson agreed the results are often less desirable.
“I don’t like it when they stack everything on top of each other and push the boundaries too hard,” he said. “It is not good for a neighborhood.”
Still, Wilson wondered if the proposal could diminish the value of transferrable development rights.
“Do you think the developer would view it as a less valuable asset?” he said.
Hall noted the number of available TDRs has dwindled in recent years.
Wilson said to avoid legislative logjams, the topic should be examined in conjunction with the City Council.
“We could put in all this time and effort in making an advisory opinion to the council that’s going to get politicized at that level and never make it anywhere,” he said.
Buckley said past attempts to coordinate the municipal entities have fallen short.
“I’ll call them and ask very nicely, “Wilson said.
Buckley suggested it might be advisable to consult first with the Ocean City Development Corporation regarding downtown parking solutions.
“We do want redevelopment and we want the older properties to be redeveloped,” she said.
Noting the downtown parking crush has continued to swell every summer, Buckley said further conversation could spur long delayed development.
“Maybe push this council into starting those plans for the downtown parking garage,” she said. “It’s going to take years … to get one designed and built.”
Neville suggested first creating a policy memo to prepare people for adaptation before adopting code revisions.
“If it causes problems, it’s easier to back away from than a code change,” he said.
Neville and Hall agreed to write a memo related to nonconformity to solicit further public input.
“How we read the ordinance today and how that can be interpreted and start to collect these ideas,” he said.
The zoning commission closed the discussion and will revisit the matter to vote on the proposed code change recommendation at its next meeting on Feb. 5.
“We’ve got to maintain the growth and the redevelopment of the town because that’s how we support ourselves,” Buckley said.