(March 29, 2019) Eliminating designated smoking areas in Northside Park, although not on the horizon for this year, was debated during a Recreation and Parks Committee meeting on Monday.
Director of Recreation and Parks Susan Petito said when the city first enacted a smoking ban in 2015 it was limited to the beach and Boardwalk.
“They overlooked the segment on parks,” she said.
Although discussions surrounding updates to the smoking ordinance last year included recommendations to make all the resort’s public parks smoke-free, Petito said the finalized language fell short of that mark.
“We decided to leave smoking areas in Northside Park at the time because a lot of the softball players are used to smoking and we didn’t want to just cut them off,” she said.
Petito said while the revised ordinance language does prohibit smoking or vaping in all public parks, excepting designated areas in Northside, it also specifies 10 different park areas that are included.
“The hope was those would not be listed because, in fact, they were talking about segments, like playgrounds at Northside Park [or] the tennis courts at Third Street,” she said. “The truth is it’s the entire park area, not just segments, that are nonsmoking.”
Petito recommended eliminating the Northside Park designated smoking areas. She added, “If you want to allow our participants one more season ... [that could] prepare them for the fact that at the end of the season we’re going to go no smoking,” she said.
“I’m happy to bring this back to you at the end of the season,” she continued. “I do think it makes sense to be uniform nonsmoking in parks.”
Ocean City Council President Lloyd Martin, also a member of the Recreation and Parks Committee, asked about efforts to strategically locate designated smoking areas in the park.
“I know we had a discussion about moving them out away from the field,” he said. “Is it working at all?”
“We’re still finding cigarette butts,” said Parks Superintendent Gary Collier.
Martin advised against sudden change.
“It’s kind of like the Boardwalk, we’ve got to ease into it,” he said.
Along with exploring relocating designated tobacco consumption areas to the fringes of the park, Martin suggested better signs.
“We put it on the pavement going in, ‘smoke-free park, enjoy the clean air,’ on the path so they don’t miss it,” he said.
Petito said department staff regularly monitors the park to inform patrons who are smoking of the current restrictions, with many claiming to be unaware of the policy.
“The challenge of having smoking areas in Northside Park, though it does provide a place for those who smoke to go, [is] where we have to locate it,” she said.
Petito said experience has proven the most ideal locations to sequester smokers are at the initial entrance to the park, along with the front of the buildings.
“You can’t really push that any farther from the front of the building, because people won’t go to it,” she said.
In addition to retaining the smoking policy this year, Martin suggested maintaining the current designated smoking areas in Northside Park if people are conscientious enough to adhere to the policy.