By Donald Wittkowski
City Council is expected to take a final vote Thursday on a new ordinance that would regulate musicians and other performers on the Ocean City Boardwalk without infringing on their constitutional right to free expression.
Performers would be confined to a wider and less commercialized section of the Boardwalk between Fifth and Sixth streets to avoid mass congestion.
City officials want to make sure Boardwalk stores are not blocked by large crowds that stop to watch the performers.
The so-called “performers alley” zone also requires entertainers to stay near the railings of the Boardwalk, keeping them away from the busier center sections. Performers would also have to remain at least 100 feet apart from each other.
Musicians, singers, dancers, magicians, jugglers and other street performers would have to buy a $50 permit from the city.
In addition, any signs that they use to solicit tips could be no larger than 12-by-12 inches.
The ordinance would place other restrictions on performers, including the hours they are allowed on the Boardwalk and the noise levels.
Although the tourist-friendly Boardwalk would be the prime spot for street performers, the ordinance would set aside other public areas for entertainment, except those within 100 feet of a school, a library or a church while in session.
An entertainment zone would also be created in the heart of the city’s central business district on Asbury Avenue between Sixth and 11th streets.
When Council introduced the ordinance on March 10 by a 6-1 vote, the proposed regulations prompted debate about whether they might impinge on the performers’ constitutional right to free expression.
Councilman Peter Guinosso, who cast the lone dissenting vote, argued that the ordinance would violate free expression by confining the performers to a strict area.
Other Council members said they were confident the regulations would be constitutional. City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told Council that the ordinance represented a broad attempt to “reasonably regulate” street performers without violating their rights.
Council will hear public comment on the ordinance before taking a final vote during its meeting 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.
Council’s agenda also includes a final vote on a new ordinance to remove “coastal cottages” from a redevelopment zone concentrated along Haven Avenue.
Coastal cottages represent a new generation of smaller, more affordable homes that are designed to attract more year-round families to town. However, city officials want to pause construction of the cottages while a study is undertaken of their impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Costeria Cottages, an 18-home development on Haven Avenue between 12th and 13th streets, is currently the only coastal cottages project under construction.
Costeria Cottages and other proposed coastal cottage projects that were previously approved by the city would be grandfathered in under the ordinance, allowing them to be built.
In another vote Thursday, Council is scheduled to formally introduce the 2016 municipal budget, which includes a local property tax increase of about a penny.
The $75.1 million spending plan is slightly higher than the $74.2 million budget proposal originally submitted to Council by Mayor Jay Gillian in January.
Since January, the city has been able to secure an extra $194,650 in library funding to boost revenue and help reduce the increase in property taxes by a small amount, Finance Director Frank Donato said.
Originally, the tax increase was expected to be 1.1 cents, but will now drop slightly under a penny. For the owners of a typical home assessed at $500,000, it will mean they will pay about $49 more in property taxes on an annual basis, Donato said.