By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
In the first formal vote for the project, City Council introduced a bond ordinance Thursday night to pay for architectural design services for Ocean City’s proposed $35 million public safety building.
The $1.1 million bond ordinance will allow the city to work with an architect to design the building’s exterior and interior features and also nail down the development cost.
City Business Administrator George Savastano said the $35 million price tag is a preliminary estimate based on conceptual plans for the project.
The hiring of an architect will allow the city to “drill down” on the cost before Council is asked to approve another ordinance sometime in the future to fund the building’s construction, Savastano explained.
Construction on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 and would take about 18 months to complete. A series of preliminary steps must first be taken, including finalizing the architectural designs and hiring the construction contractor through the public bidding process.
The bond ordinance unanimously introduced by Council represents the first formal step taken by the seven-member governing body since Mayor Jay Gillian unveiled plans for the project during a town hall meeting on Oct. 24. A public hearing and final vote for the ordinance are scheduled for the Nov. 19 Council meeting.
The new public safety building would combine Ocean City’s police, fire, emergency management, emergency dispatch and municipal court operations all in one complex. It would occupy most of the block bordered by Asbury and West avenues between Fifth and Sixth streets – the same location currently used for the fire department’s headquarters.
The existing fire station at 550 Asbury Ave. would be demolished to create space for the public safety building. In addition, the city plans to tear down the existing police department headquarters at Eighth Street and Central Avenue for downtown parking.
Gillian said the old public safety building, which dates to 1890, and the fire department’s headquarters, built in 1983, are simply too outdated to handle the technological demands and complexities of modern police and fire operations.
Rising three stories high, the new public safety building would include a parking garage built underneath. There would also be parking in front of the complex on Asbury Avenue.
In other business at Thursday’s Council meeting, Savastano and Gillian announced plans for the city to begin using pesticide-free landscaping for all municipal-owned grounds beginning in 2021.
Savastano said the move is in response to suggestions from local environmental advocate Donna Moore and other residents for the city to switch to eco-friendly organic measures to take care of the grass, shrubbery and flowers on public property.
“We’ve been listening,” he said.
Gillian has told members of his administration that he wants municipal property to be pesticide-free starting next year, but first the city will study the cost and intricacies of the plan. Savastano said the city plans to issue a report on its findings in 30 days. The report will be made available to the public.
“The mayor has directed us to see how it works on all city property,” Savastano said.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Gillian said he believes that the city’s goal to go pesticide-free is “the right thing to do.”
“I’m all about public safety,” he said. “We have to study it and make sure we do it the right way. But anything you can do to help the environment is a good thing.”
As she does at virtually every Council meeting, Moore appeared before the governing body on Thursday to talk about the health hazards of pesticides and fertilizers containing toxic chemicals.
Holding handwritten signs that dramatize their warnings about pesticides, Moore and her supporters have been urging Council and the mayor to have the city’s contractors use environmentally friendly methods to control weeds on parks, playgrounds and other public grounds.
Moore, who has been appealing to city officials for years, was relieved to hear of Gillian’s plan to stop using pesticides on all public property.
Largely based on Moore’s persistence, the city set aside eight of 32 public sites around town last year as a test for organic landscaping techniques.
“I’m really grateful to all of you guys for taking this position,” Moore told the Council members and Gillian of the pesticide-free program proposed for all public property.
Some of the Council members praised Gillian for being open-minded to the idea of eco-friendly landscaping.
“I think that’s a great next step,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said.
The Council members also thanked Moore for her efforts to educate them and local residents on the dangers of landscaping chemicals. Councilman Jody Levchuk, who has two young daughters, said he and other Ocean City parents appreciate her efforts to help protect their children.
“Donna Moore will have a wonderful sleep tonight,” Levchuk said.
Also at the Council meeting, Gillian announced that he has reached out to the Humane Society of Ocean City to start a public education program reminding dog owners of the importance of keeping their pets on a leash while walking them on the beach.
Gillian noted that he has been receiving numerous complaints from residents about dogs running leash-free on the beaches. Some people have expressed fears of being bitten and want the city to “put the hammer down” on dog owners who don’t restrain their pets, he said.
Although dogs are banned on the beaches during the peak summer tourism season, they are allowed to romp on the sand from Oct. 1 to April 30 provided they are on a leash and their owners clean up any messes.
The mayor said he believes that even if the city used “a thousand” police officers to patrol the beaches, some owners would not keep their dogs on leashes. Hoping to reduce the problem, he said the city will work with the Humane Society on a public education campaign for dog owners.
“You have to take responsibility,” he said of the need for owners to control their dogs.