Group discusses city ethics board, construction permits, membership initiatives

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Ocean City Community Association tackles many issues

This home, one of three under construction in the 2800 block of Wesley Avenue, is nearest to completion. This home, one of three under construction in the 2800 block of Wesley Avenue, is nearest to completion. The featured topic of Saturday morning’s meeting of the Ocean City Community Association – construction and demolition permits – took a back seat and last place on an agenda that touched on such far-ranging issues as the proposed disbanding of the city’s ethics commission, the creation of a nominations committee to propose officers for the group’s March meeting, the addition of 12 cell phone panels throughout the city to improve service, and the need for the group to increase membership and improve on its dues collection rate.

A resolution supporting the creation of a safe bicycle path from one end of the island to the other was passed, as were resolutions permitting the destruction of old association records and the transfer of association archives to the historical museum.

One of the more heated discussions during the two-plus-hour meeting, held at the Ocean City Free Public Library, was the proposed disbanding of the city’s ethics commission, which will receive a second reading at City Council’s Feb. 9 meeting. Among those in the audience in favor of retaining the ethics commission were Councilman Roy Wagner, the lone dissenting vote against abolishing the board at council’s first reading; Pete Guinosso, whom Wagner has endorsed for the 4th Ward council seat he is vacating after eight years; Ed Price, former president of the Library Board of Trustees; and Eric Sauder, a citizen concerned that loss of the watchdog committee will lead to a more closed city government.

Another discussion of some length was held on the city’s intention to re-deck the boardwalk with southern yellow pine, a wood that has been historically incapable of holding up to the traffic it bears. It was decided the association, which President Curt Gronert said has been frustrated by the city’s lack of response to its offer of input, will renew its focus on this issue due to its timeliness.

Saying, “We don’t want to turn into an Ocean City, Maryland,” Wagner urged audience and OCCA members to attend the Feb. 1 Planning Board meeting at which the city’s master plan will be reviewed. Once approved, it will be in place for 10 years. Overdevelopment of the island, which includes buildings that exceed 50 feet in height in the hospitality zone, is a concern of the OCCA, which states its mission “is to protect and promote the best interests of the property owners and residents of the city of Ocean City.”

Gronert also reported that Next G has received approval to erect a dozen 3- to 4-foot-high by 1-foot-wide panels throughout the city, starting at 40th Street and continuing north, to improve cell phone capacity in the city. Among the locations slated for panels are 12th Street at the boardwalk and the 29th Street firehouse. Frequently slow and occasionally no service at peak periods last summer proved that increased capacity was desperately needed on the island. Thus far, Gronert said, A&T is the only provider to sign up with Next G.

Pushed to last on the agenda, and owing to the lack of a city official to attend the meeting, the construction and demolition permit numbers supplied by Jim Mallon, director of the Ocean City Department of Community Services, were presented with little comment. Gronert expressed the hope that a city official would attend a future meeting to address the question: “Are we geared up to handle the next real estate boom?”

On Friday, prior to the OCCA meeting, Mallon said in a telephone interview that with the exception of the high of 2006 (a gain of 288 residential units) and the low of 2009 (a gain of 68 residential units), the city had experienced very consistent numbers in new residential units gained with 110 in 2008, 119 in 2010 and 115 in 2011.

Maria Marinella, president of the Ocean City Board of Realtors, said on Friday that the number of units that have sold in town has stabilized.

“It’s pretty much been level,” she said, pointing to 610 closed sales in 2009 and 643 in 2010. “The worst is behind us,” she said, offering as proof the statistic that there were 735 closed sales in 2011, an increase of 14.3 percent over 2010.

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