(July 12, 2019) After an extended debate over extended sidewalks, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission voted last week in favor of a proposed site plan for nine townhomes on the northeast corner of 12th Street and St. Louis Avenue.
The commission voted 4-0, with members Palmer Gillis, Peck Miller and Chris Shanahan absent, to give a favorable recommendation for the development of the roughly 16,000-square-foot parcel at 1200 St. Louis Ave.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall told the commission during its July 2 meeting the site plan calls for eight 3-bedroom and one 2-bedroom townhome units, with four each on St. Louis Avenue and 12th Street and one facing Dayton Lane.
Hall said the required parking includes 2.5 spaces for each three-bedroom unit and two spaces for the sole two-bedroom townhouse, with most of the parking to be provided in individual unit garages.
The parcel is zoned R-2 medium-density residential. Hall noted that the proposal does not include nonconformity issues requiring variances or special exceptions, while highlighting a list of standard staff recommendations, including a three-foot extension to the five-foot sidewalk on St. Louis Avenue.
Commission member Lauren Taylor questioned the need to widen the sidewalk on the portion bordering St. Louis Avenue.
“Normally, I’m for wider sidewalks, but here I’d rather see more grass,” she said.
Hall said including wider sidewalks on new development projects has been a standard policy of the mayor and City Council.
Taylor reiterated the point due to aesthetical concerns.
“I think the need there for a prettier neighborhood is more important than more pavers,” she said.
Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin said his organization had reviewed the site plan with project applicant, 12th Street Development.
“We will need additional details on the project materials [and] colors,” he said.
Irwin said those particulars would become known during the building permit process. He also weighed in on additional sidewalk versus landscaping considerations.
“The city policy has been to get a wider sidewalk whenever they can,” he said.
Still, Irwin said there could be site-specific rationales for an exception.
“There tends to be more traffic going east-west than north-south in that area,” he said.
Irwin said based on pedestrian flow, a potential compromise could be extending the sidewalk along the 12th Street portion to eight-feet.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing the applicant, agreed with Taylor’s sidewalk suggestion.
“We’re fine with narrower sidewalks,” he said.
Project architect Rick Schoellkopf also concurred with the preference for grass rather than concrete.
“I get it that it’s a citywide issue, but that’s what you guys are for … specific cases,” he said. “This is different than a really high-traffic area where we really want those sidewalks.”
Shifting the conversation, Schoellkopf highlighted other design elements.
“What I like about the project is it puts the units up front and the parking in the back, so that you’re not looking at a parking lot,” he said. “We tried to pick up the rhythm of that area.”
Planning Commission Chairwoman Pam Buckley said bypassing generally prescribed three-foot sidewalk extensions could set a precedent that could cause future development projects to seek similar considerations.
Taylor said the wide array of zoning districts would lessen the likelihood of that scenario.
“That’s the reason we’re here, is to make decisions that aren’t by the textbook,” she said.
Commission member Joe Wilson liked the push for a green aesthetic but raised other issues.
“I have concerns about pedestrian safety and I think it would be best if they had a wider sidewalk,” he said.
Commission member Joel Brous concurred with Wilson, while admitting it was a difficult decision as aesthetics also were worthy of consideration.
Despite the varying opinions, the commission was unified in sending the mayor and city council a favorable site plan recommendation, including a three-foot section of grass or greenery along a five-foot wide sidewalk on St. Louis Avenue.