Mayor Rick Meehan proposed candidates for a newly formed parking task force to the City Council on Monday.

Charged with examining overall circumstances and availability throughout OC

(Feb. 8, 2019) Aware of public protest over proposed oceanside parking meters north of downtown, the Ocean City Council on Monday avoided specifics while approving membership this week for a comprehensive parking task force.

The council asked Mayor Rick Meehan last May to suggest candidates for a task force to examine various aspects of parking throughout town, and on Monday

Meehan stressed that the formation of a parking task force is an exploratory measure.

“There have been no decisions made,” he said. “This is to comprehensively look at parking throughout our community.”

Despite conversations last May concerning potential revenue generated by instituting metered parking from 11th to 33rd streets oceanside, Meehan said the task force’s general charge would be examining how to address parking availability and to study the revenue more meters might produce.

“I don’t believe there’s any predetermined ideas,” he said. “This isn’t where the press goes out and writes, ‘parking meters are coming to Ocean City,’ because that’s really not what this is about.”

In 2013, opposition voices staged a successful petition drive to squash a proposal to add parking meters on ocean blocks in north Ocean City.

Councilman Dennis Dare said the previous effort half dozen years ago eventually got derailed by specifics but was initially intended to take a wider purview.

“Perhaps where the train jumped the track, we said there were a few places where, thinking it was low hanging fruit, we should just go ahead and … have that revenue because that’s going to be recommended.”

After a sizable contingent of residents took exception with the meter proposal in 2013, Dare said the city has been searching for solutions amicable to all, or hopefully most, parties.

“There were citizens that took exception to that, so we’ve been six years thinking is there a win-win in here someplace,” he said. “There may not be a parking meter out of this whole thing in the end.”

Meehan said the discussions were revived last year during exercises to map out Ocean City’s Strategic Plan, which includes suggestions related to parking fees and permits.

“It discusses what is the problem [and] is there a lack of beach parking access for property owners?” he said.

Meehan said concepts bandied about during the strategic planning sessions included a revenue-neutral trial-parking program for beach access.

“There will be issues with upfront capital costs, enforcement, availability of parking and permit limitations,” he said.

Meehan also said some council members during the planning session mistakenly believed the exercise principally surrounded a study of paid parking meters to generate revenue.

“City Engineer (Terry McGean) explained the taskforce would look at a number of these issues, including permits [and] meters,” he said.

The strategic plan also says McGean and Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville will assist in the parking analysis.

“The first step is to create a task force,” Meehan said.

He also proposed putting a municipal parking expert on the task force.

“Somebody that had the ability to lead the discussion to show what has worked in other areas and what hasn’t worked,” he said.

McGean said that would be Dan Kupferman of Walker Consultants, a global parking design firm, whose membership on the task force was confirmed by the council on Jan. 15.

“My goal was to find someone with an expertise in municipal parking to provide unbiased technical guidance,” he said.

McGean said the city had contracted with Walker Consultants to replace inlet parking lot ticketing systems in 2012, while also noting Kupferman was formerly employed by Parkeon, the firm the city contracted for its current pay-by-plate parking system.

McGean said Kupferman’s resume provides credence for adding an “expert,” set of eyes based on past experience helping communities avoid potential parking planning pitfalls.

“He’s done virtually the exact same thing that we’re asking … for communities all across the country from Maine to Honolulu,” he said. “As we learned in the past, this is a very controversial topic and having someone with that level of expertise will be important.”

Councilman Mark Paddack suggested the task force membership include previous opposition voices.

“What I don’t see on here is some of those naysayers from years ago prior to my being elected to the council,” he said.

Paddack also highlighted Meehan’s previously stated opposition to additional parking meters.

“The Mayor came out and said … he was not going to be supportive of metered parking other than in the areas of town where it is currently,” he said.

Meehan concurred with Paddack’s suggestion to install a pair of previous critics to the task force, while reiterating past disapproval of installing parking meters in currently unchartered locations.

 “You’re right about my position and that position hasn’t changed,” he said.

Meehan again emphasized the task force would provide suggestions only.

“There may be no action taken, but I think that it’s lingered long enough and this was a priority at the strategic planning exercise,” he said.

Dare compared the issue to a similarly contentious debate surrounding earlier expansion of the Ocean City convention center.

“The issue is reminiscent of another 25 years ago with the convention center when it still had the ramp out front [and] was just a little box up on stilts,” he said. “It was back and forth like a tennis match for several years.”

Eventually a committee was formed to examine expanding the convention center, which in the end helped mold a consensus, Dare said.

“It’s been a great asset to the town and we’re getting ready for an expansion and more economic development from it,” he said. “I think this kind of mirrors that.”

The council voted 5-0, with Councilman Tony DeLuca and President Lloyd Martin absent, to appoint task force participants proposed by Meehan.

The parking task force membership includes: Kupferman, Meehan, Councilmembers’ Dare, Mary Knight, John Gehrig, City Engineer McGean, Planning Director Neville, and OCPD Cpt. Mike Colbert.

Resident and business members include: Brett Wolf, Danelle Amos, Joe Groves, Bill Gibbs, Joel Brous, Mike Donnelly, G. Hale Harrison, Austin Purnell, Joe Kostelac and Chris Mitchell

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