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Friday, April 12, 2024

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OC Delays Vote on Driveway Material

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By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – City Council delayed the final vote on an ordinance amending rules for the amount of impermeable surface allowed on a property, in part to give time to gather more information.
At the Dec. 12 meeting, Councilman Robert Barr requested an amendment to the ordinance, which was set to ban the use of concrete driveway strips in favor of block pavers, a system for driveways made of concrete or recycled materials that allow grass to grow between the blocks.
They’re described as a “porous, eco-friendly option for driveways and parking areas” by a website dedicated to gardening and design.
Several residents addressed the ordinance before and during the public hearing, some with concerns over the materials allowed under the ordinance, others to discuss the city’s parking regulations.
The city limits the amount of impervious surface on lots, to allow more water to drain into the soil, rather than running across concrete and into the city’s drainage system, but the city also mandates off-street parking for residential development.
One option used in the past has been placing two concrete strips with enough room for a car’s tires, while keeping the space between them either grass, gravel or another material that can absorb rainwater.
City administration wanted to eliminate that option. Mayor Jay Gillian has argued that the option is often unsightly, and many are poorly maintained. Often, the strip in between the concrete ends up getting paved anyway, he has said.
Barr made a motion to amend the ordinance to continue to allow the concrete strips, which would have otherwise been banned throughout the city. Council members unanimously supported the amendment, but before the vote, Councilman Anthony Wilson asked about the adverse effects of the concrete strips, pointing out that the Planning Board had supported the change.
“I think that there was a desire to get rid of the concrete because they are unsightly, and we’ve seen so often that they’re filled with stones in between, so that they aren’t serving the purpose,” McCrosson said.
She stated that the change Barr requested could be made that night, without needing to advertise the ordinance again, as would be required for a major change.
She later requested a delay, after questions were raised by members of the public.
During the public hearing on the ordinance, resident Chuck Deal had questions about the number of parking spaces required for various numbers of bedrooms in a home under the city ordinance. For instance, a house with five bedrooms is supposed to have three parking spaces under city code.
He cited a footnote that seemed to offer a way around that requirement, which would allow a developer not to state the number of bedrooms in a plan.
This question was what led to the ordinance being delayed. McCrosson said she wanted time to research the footnote and its effect before the final vote, including whether the footnote is required for any reason.
“It is very vague,” she said, adding that typically plans detail how many bedrooms are included. “I don’t understand this footnote, either. I’d like to educate myself and come back and explain to you what this footnote is and whether you have the option to strike it.”
“The problem is density. When you have a five-bedroom or six-bedroom house, you have a lot of density. When you have density, you have a lot of cars. As we all know, on weekends in the summertime, people park illegally,” Deal said.
He added that parking amounts to a public safety hazard because on crowded days, people park too close to the intersection.
At one point in the meeting, Deal cited towns that use crushed shells or gravel for parking, and said he used to have sand behind his place in Ocean City.
“There was no maintenance on it. Easy. You just parked. You didn’t have to cut it,” Deal said. “What we’re talking about is excellent, I think. We just have to tweak it a little bit.”
Resident Donna Moore had questions about the various brands of block pavers available. Different brands offer different levels of permeability, she said. The block paver driveways would be counted entirely as a permeable surface.
She supported the idea, but wanted further specifications in the ordinance on the block pavers. She also suggested stones and clamshells as a possible option, if they are not lined with thick plastic underneath to allow water to seep through.
“We need, like Mr. Deal said, to start thinking about alternatives to concrete, and covering the island in concrete. Our barrier island environment begs (for) permeability, and we also need to think about that for flooding.”
During the discussion, Gillian said he often hears complaints about the amount of concrete paving in the resort, but the city must take everyone into account when changing a zoning rule, including those with mobility issues, who may use a wheelchair or someone using crutches.
“It’s easy to say let’s stop doing this,” he said. “We have to take our time and get the facts and think of everybody.”
Gillian said he wants to see more enforcement of zoning codes in the city, and said the amendment was not aimed at allowing larger homes by reducing the amount of lot coverage given toward driveways.
“I’m not giving anybody anything so that they can have bigger homes. I want to keep it third-grade level here. If that’s happening, I will be back here immediately,” he said, stating the city does not need bigger houses.
“The strips are stupid,” said Wilson, during the discussion. “Have you seen the size of my truck? I never made it on those strips yet.”
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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