Sidewalk discussion continues in Ocean View

Discussion of plans for sidewalks in Ocean View continued this week, at a July 12 town council meeting that picked up where discussion at a June 28 council workshop had left off.

“I’m opposed to the sidewalks. I don’t think it’s something necessary to Ocean View,” Town Councilman Tom Sheeran said on Tuesday. “Why are we spending money when we have to raise taxes? I think it’s, at this point in time, a bad deal.”

Councilman Bob Lawless said he was in favor of the sidewalks, at least in part due to the accrued drainage benefits to the town.

“The value won’t decrease over time,” he said of the approximate $1 million project, 80 percent of which will be paid for by the state, with the remaining 20 percent paid for by the Town. “At a future time, it will be $1 million-plus. It seems to me a wise investment.”

Mayor Gordon Wood agreed, urging his fellow council members not to impact Phase 1 of the sidewalks project, which has already been approved.

“We will have a high-quality sidewalk from the Assawoman Canal to the Lord Baltimore school,” he said.

Briarcliff resident Kathy Vengazo said that people within her community would like to walk outside of their community, if they could do so safely. She added that the community’s board voted unanimously to support the town’s sidewalk project.

“We would rather not see someone killed before they decide to build sidewalks,” she said. “I urge you not to tamper with what has been approved.”

Resident Bill Olsen suggested that the town should perhaps eliminate the discussion of the requirement for snow removal as part of the project, which could help residents be more accepting of it.

“I’m for sidewalks, at least until you get done with Central Avenue,” he added.

On July 12, a public hearing was held regarding that ordinance that would amend town code to require snow and ice removal from sidewalks. The ordinance previously said that a resident was required to remove within 24 hours any ice and or snow that had accumulated on a sidewalk that abutted their property.

The ordinance was amended to say that residents would be responsible for removing snow from a sidewalk, “on its front yard or side yard, but not including the rear yard.”

Bear Trap resident Mary Iaci said that, in her development, only 15 percent of the people live there fulltime and the streets are barely cleared during snowstorms, let alone the sidewalks.

“Who am I clearing the sidewalks for?” she asked.

The council approved the revised ordinance with a 4-1 vote, with Sheeran opposed.

The first public hearing for the Sidewalk Replacement Trust Fund was also held on Tuesday, to solicit public input on establishing a fund for the purpose of repairing, replacing and maintaining town sidewalks. The ordinance would cover sidewalks built in the future, not those that are currently within the town.

Town Manager Conway Gregory explained to the council that an initial $10,000 would be placed into the fund, coming from impact fees, as would 25 percent of eligible transfer tax. Any interest accumulated would go directly back into the fund.

By the 2017 fiscal year, the funds would become available, following an assessment or study of the sidewalks to determine if any maintenance, repair or replacement is necessary. Such a study would be conducted every five years from that point on and repairs would only be administered if the estimated cost would exceed $10,000.

Lawless said that he believed such a trust was necessary, as the town will be taking over responsibility for the future sidewalks.

“It would seem fiscally irresponsible not to have this.”

Resident Steve Cobb said he was for the fund but concerned about how council plans to get the required monies.

“This new funding source was not included in the current fiscal-year budget. The intent was self-sustainable… [But] it’s going to have to come from somewhere.”

A second public hearing on the sidewalk fund is scheduled for the August town council meeting, with possible action to follow.

The council voted 5-0 on July 12 to approve a $5,500 “Manpower Study Contract” with the University of Delaware. The study, to be conducted by the University’s Institute of Public Administration, would review the town’s organizational structure, conduct a compensation comparison and update job descriptions for both the town manager and finance director positions.

Wood said he had contacted the university for their help after Gregory announced he would not be renewing his contract with the town. Since then, Wood and Lawless have both spoken with university officials, and they said they hope to hold workshops soon.

“This is part of our process,” said Wood. “Everything in this process will be transparent.”

Cobb agreed that the study is a good idea, but he urged the council to use it as only a part of their decision-making process.

“Ultimately, the decision lies with you and what you feel is best for the town.”

“The decision is going to be ours,” responded Wood.

The council also discussed proposed new voting districts within the town. Olsen presented an option for new districting that would keep District 3 the same, but slightly alter the other three districts.

Olsen said that Country Estates and Country Village would be put into District 2. He added that they were hoping to retain equality within the districts and make them contiguous, to keep neighborhoods and historic boundaries within the same district.

The town has a population of 1,882, and hopes are to redistrict District 1 from 419 residents to 485; District 2 from 338 to 458; and District 4 from 658 to 472; and retain District 3 at 467 residents.

Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader said that he would draft an ordinance that identifies the four districts, to be presented to the council at a future meeting.

Police Chief Ken McLaughlin on Tuesday also presented a proposed ordinance to prevent people from sleeping in their vehicles outdoors.

McLaughlin said the town has been having problems – particularly with one man who has been sleeping in his vehicle in the John West Park parking lot and using town facilities in the morning to clean up before leaving.

He said the ordinance would help regulate such activity and allow the department to take action if necessary.

In other town news:

• The town is searching for residents who are willing to volunteer their time to serve on the Board of Adjustments or the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Wood suggested that the town advertise in a local newspaper for candidates, to give the public an opportunity to come forward and volunteer their services.

Schrader suggested that within the advertisement, the town include a previous knowledge of land-use planning and development, architectural review committees or other P & Z committees as preferred qualifications, to help acquire a qualified pool of candidates. Council agreed that such advertisements would be acceptable.

“We need to expand the population of people that we can look at as candidates,” said Lawless.

“I think it’s a good thing for our town,” added Wood.

• Gregory reported that the U.S. Department of Energy had reviewed the “green” grants given to the town, and all were given a 100 percent approval rating. He said they were impressed with how well they were organized.

The Town received three bids for the solar carport project, to be constructed behind the Wallace A. Melson Municipal Building. The lowest bid given was for $387,900, which Gregory said should not cost the town itself any money. It will be formally presented to council at their July 26 workshop.

• McLaughlin reported that the Ocean View Police Department had held a very successful Bike Safety Checkpoint on June 30. He noted that 60 bikes were inspected.

• The town council, by a unanimous 5-0 vote, approved the annexation of approximately 115.59 acres owned by Silverstock Builders. The parcel is now labeled as a Mixed-Use Planned Community District.

• The council introduced an ordinance amending the Land Use and Development Code, adding Article X, related to signs. The matter is scheduled to be brought to a public hearing on Aug. 18 with the Planning and Zoning Commission. The first reading and public hearing before council is set for Sept 13.

“I encourage anyone who is in business in the Town of Ocean View, whose ox will be gored by a sign ordinance, to be present at the public hearing. We need input from people who will be affected,” emphasized Lawless.

• The town council will hold its monthly workshop on July 26.