(Oct. 25, 2019) The possibility of expanding paid parking anywhere in Ocean City was rejected last Thursday, when resort government’s parking task force turned thumbs down to all but one option on the table: the do-nothing option.
Not quite half of the 19 members on the advisory body attended the session to consider the alternatives, and those who did voted 4-2 to recommend that the City Council take no action.
Serving on the task force and at session were Councilmembers Dennis Dare, Mary Knight and John Gehrig, City Engineer Terry McGean, business owners Hale Harrison, Chris Mitchell, Joe Groves and resident Joe Kostelac.
Most adamant in his opposition to more paid parking was Harrison, who contended that the various plans as presented by McGean were overly complicated and unnecessary.
The options encompassed areas as small as 11th to 33rd Street, to as large as 11th Street to the Maryland/Delaware state line (see accompanying box).
"We just raised the room tax. We're raising the rate for...the Boardwalk and the inlet [parking]. Enough is enough," said Harrison, Vice President of Operations and Real Estate for the Harrison Group Resort Hotels and Restaurants.
Harrison added that it was not only the fee, but the hassle of it all: finding parking and figuring out whether a space is paid or free parking. All of that, he said, on top of paying for a hotel room.
“As a hotel operator…do you know how many complaints we are going to get from our visitors, [and] how hard this is going to be to explain?
Harrison also recalled that paid parking expansions had been shot down before, and that the mayor had declared he would not support future expansions. Mayor Rick Meehan also serves on the task force but did not attend last Thursday’s meeting.
In addition, he said the HMRA had been told that if it supported an increase in the room tax, the city would not expand paid parking.
The last time city government attempted to install metered parking throughout the resort was in 2013, when outraged residents and business operators succeeded in blocking it.
Meehan, who unsuccessfully attempted to propose a compromise between the council and the public, said in regard to future meters on the streets, “As long as I’m mayor, I wouldn’t support that.” He reaffirmed on Feb. 4 this year, when he proposed candidates for the newly formed Parking Task Force.
Harrison made a motion to reject any paid parking expansion option, which Chris Mitchell, regional vice president of Coldwell Banker Vacation, seconded.
Council members, however, expressed their opposition, because of the revenue more paid parking would generate.
“The easiest thing to do is nothing,” Dare said. “The only place that you can go to the beach between Cape Charles and Cape Henlopen and park for free is here in Ocean City.”
Dare said the city needed more revenue to pay for services such as nightly beach cleaning and the Ocean City Beach Patrol, which cost the resort roughly $4.8 million a year.
“We know the city needs revenue, [but] this to me is a hard way to get it, and a negative way to get it,” Harrison replied.
Gehrig called the vote premature, and said shutting down the conversation before hashing out all of the details would prevent the task force members from reaching common ground.
Gehrig said he understood Harrison’s concerns, but that the conversation on paid parking should not, and would not end there. He also reiterated the need to target day-trippers.
“I get the day-tripper thing, and that is a valid point,” Harrison said. “Unfortunately, there’s no way you can hit the day-tripper and charge them for parking, without also hitting our hotel guests … and our condominium guests.”
The task force voted 4 to 2 for Harrison’s motion, with Dare and McGean abstaining from the vote and Kostelac and Knight in opposition.
“I agree [with Gehrig], we got to talk about it,” Knight said. “I’ll be open to all of your concerns, but it’s not going to be a dead issue. We will continue to talk about this at the end of October [strategic planning meeting].”