The Ocean Shores City Council by a narrow 4-3 vote effectively moved to continue planning for the Point Brown Avenue sidewalks and pedestrian improvements project without yet settling on a preferred alternative.
The council on Monday also approved three ordinances, two of them dealing with restricting future new marijuana businesses and allowing only one retail shop, and another adding a chronic public nuisance chapter to the current city nuisance law.
The issue that received the most public outcry was the ongoing process to design sidewalks, bike lanes, new parking and other amenities along Point Brown from the city gates to Chance a la Mer. There was a request by several council members to limit the time for public discussion on each of the issues, but it was defeated with more than 80 people in attendance.
“All of these items have a tremendous impact on the community and community members,” Councilwoman Holly Plackett said. “And this is their opportunity to come and talk to us again as we . . . discuss moving forward.”
Several forums have been held recently to discuss the proposed alternative D for the Pt. Brown plan, and the Ocean Shores/North Beach Chamber of Commerce formally addressed the issue on Monday after a meeting last week with Public Works Director Nick Bird.
Chamber Director Piper Leslie listed several concerns that businesses still have: “Ultimately, it seems there is no alternative that is a perfect fit.” She suggested a committee of business owners and city officials be formed to draft a more agreeable proposal.
Many business owners objected to the impact the project could have on parking. There are now an estimated 210 parking stalls in the Point Brown corridor, and the D alternative would result in 130 angled parking stalls, fewer than alternatives A and C. Total program costs are $12.87 million for alternative D, which is significantly lower than the $15.1 million cost of alternative A, or the $14.3 million cost of alternative B, and the $15.48 million cost of alternative C. Alternative D has the highest right-of-way cost of $2.04 million, but the lowest estimated construction cost of $8.2 million.
In a summary of the alternatives, Bird said he actually preferred alternative C because the savings would not be significant in matching funds for the city, while alternative D would cost businesses 52 parking spaces.. The city is expected to need $1.14 million in local matching funds for grants to fund the project, and the difference would only be $4,000 in the actual matching cost, Bird said.
Citizens and business/property owners who spoke against the proposal also were concerned with issues such as the design of roundabouts and angled parking, and lack of community support for the alternatives.
Chris Castle, a 27-year resident and business property owner, was adamantly opposed to the project: “We have been asking for crosswalks for a very long time. It should be something that is very, very simple. Sidewalks, sure, I’m not against them. But I am not for the extra roundabouts, I am not for the damage it does in limiting parking.”
Business owner June Bongirno (Waves of Bling) suggested another option that maintains “the eclectic flavor” of the beach town, such as boardwalks in front of some of the storefronts and painted bike lanes along with a walking path.
“There is a lot of existing infrastructure in Ocean Shores that needs to be maintained,” said David Matthews. “We still have bridges that are closed and we still have roads that are beginning to need repair.Those are needs, and in my view the Point Brown project is a want.”
Piper Leslie of the Ocean Shores/North Beach Chamber of Commerce listed several concerns that businesses still have with the project. “Ultimately, it seems there is no alternative that is a perfect fit,” Piper said, suggesting a committee of business owners and city officials to move forward with a plan.
What it came time for action, Councilwoman Susan Conniry moved to vote all the alternatives down, saying citizens largely oppose them: “I think we truly need to stop this. I believe we need to talk about it and go forward.”
But the vote on her motion failed with Bob Crumpacker and Steve Ensley voting for it. Council members Bob Peterson, Jon Martin, Lisa Griebel and Plackett cast the votes to keep the project planning alive.
“The easy thing to do is to walk away and do nothing,” Martin said, adding that would be like sending a “statement that we will never have sidewalks.”
Plackett said she believed the city could find a way to build support for the project if we “commit as a council that we are going to walk our walk and keep our word.”
The council ultimately voted 7-0 to bring the issue back after a study session. Bird said a decision needs to be made within 30 days for funding application.
Mayor Crystal Dingler asked: “Is there room there to modify one of these options and make it work to answer some of the problems, or are we too far along? I don’t believe we are too far.”
Chronic nuisance code
The council unanimously adopted the new and expanded ordinance, which now includes an appeal process that the council voted to limit to five days.
Ocean Shores Block Watch founder Randy Peck argued against extending the appeal: “Five days seems to be enough. These people know the condition of their property.”
Peck added he was “finally glad to see this get to the point” just before all seven council members voted to pass the ordinance.
If a property is deemed to be a chronic nuisance, the city may impose a penalty of up to $500 per day until the Police Chief confirms the property is no longer a nuisance. If the city is forced to abate the property, the costs are to be paid for by the person in control of the property. If the court then finds that an owner failed to “take all reasonable steps requested in writing,” the court may impose a civil penalty up to $25,000.
Properties considered to be chronic nuisances “exist as a result of a property owner omitting to perform a duty or permitting an action or condition to occur or exist (that) intrudes or or interferes with the ability of neighbors or residents to use or enjoy their properties.
If there are deemed to be three or more nuisance activities on the property during a 60-day period or seven or more nuisance issues over a 12-month period, a property would be considered a chronic nuisance. Also falling under the new ordinance are properties in which there have been two or more drug investigations or violations within a 12-month period.
The council also approved both ordinances limiting where any future marijuana businesses can be located and establishing land-use regulations that would further limit any further retail marijuana business to no more than one marijuana retailer within city limits.
The most contentious part of the new marijuana ordinances was the latter part of the proposal, which effectively limits the city to having only the current marijuana business in operation on Ocean Shores Boulevard. Council members Susan Conniry and Bob Crumpacker both said they could not support such a limit on a local business.