By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Ocean City already prohibits cigarette and cigar smoking on the Boardwalk, beaches, at city parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and other public places.
Now, another type of smoking will be banned in the same areas: Smoking or vaping marijuana or hashish will not be allowed in public under a proposed new law.
Voting 7-0, City Council introduced an ordinance Thursday night that will effectively make all public places in the resort town a no-smoking zone for marijuana, including the Boardwalk, beaches, playgrounds and other popular areas.
The ordinance will also ban marijuana smoking or vaping at other places that fall within the public realm, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said. They will include highways, waterways, outdoor events and outdoor dining areas.
In stark language, the ordinance warns of the “inherently dangerous behavior” of smoking. It also cites the need to protect children from exposure to marijuana, cannabis or hashish.
Council has scheduled a public hearing and final vote on the ordinance for its May 27 meeting.
Just last month, Council gave final approval to another ordinance that bans the sale, distribution or manufacturing of marijuana in the entire city.
On Feb. 22, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills to legalize pot in New Jersey for adults 21 and older and to decriminalize it for people under 21. Adults are allowed to smoke cannabis in their homes or on private property. They are not allowed to smoke marijuana in public places, according to state law.
From the start, Ocean City officials have objected to New Jersey’s legalization of recreational marijuana. Council members have repeatedly expressed concerns that the city’s family-friendly reputation could be harmed if marijuana is sold in town and people simply begin smoking pot in popular tourist areas, such as the Boardwalk.
The new ordinance emphatically states that marijuana smoking will not be allowed in any public place. Penalties for violating the smoking ban will include fines ranging from $250 to $500 for the first offense and between $500 and $1,000 for a second offense.
In other business, Council introduced a $3 million bond ordinance to help finance a project that will elevate a condominium complex in the south end of town above flood levels.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to fund the entire $3 million project at the Ocean Aire condos and will reimburse the city for the cost. However, the city is approving the funding upfront to get the project started, City Finance Director Frank Donato explained to Council.
The Ocean Aire condo complex consists of seven buildings and 52 units on West Avenue at 43rd Street. The bayfront condos are often swamped by flood waters that can rise as high as the windows on the first floor.
According to plans, all seven buildings will be lifted off the ground and then placed on top of massive concrete cinder blocks to raise them above flood levels. The project is expected to get underway later this year.
City Council President Bob Barr, whose Fourth Ward Council district includes the Ocean Aire complex, said the condo owners have been waiting for a long time to escape from the flooding.
“They’re on the road to relief,” he said.
Barr called the project a prime example of multiple levels of government working together for a much-needed project.
In another matter, Council unanimously introduced a new ordinance that will require refuse containers such as trash cans and garbage pails in commercial areas to be covered to prevent them from leaking into the storm drains.
In addition, the ordinance will also require construction dumpsters to be covered overnight and at other times when they are not being used, unless they are empty.
The measure is scheduled for a public hearing and final vote on May 27.
In another vote, Council gave final approval to a zoning ordinance that will exclude senior citizen housing from the Boardwalk zone. The vote was 6-1, with Councilman Peter Madden the lone dissenter.
Council said the zoning change will close a loophole that would have allowed senior citizen housing developments to be built in areas of the Boardwalk that should be reserved for family-oriented entertainment.
“This Boardwalk zone is for family entertainment. That’s why they come,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said of Ocean City’s tourists.
Madden, though, wanted to table the ordinance to give the city’s Planning Board more time to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the Boardwalk zone, including some of the deteriorated buildings.
He called it a “knee-jerk reaction” for Council to consider the ordinance before the Planning Board could study the issue.
In response to Madden’s comments, Barr said the zoning change would protect the Boardwalk from haphazard development.
“We have to be very careful to maintain the character of our Boardwalk as it currently stands,” Barr said.
Barr and other Council members who voted in favor of the ordinance repeatedly said that it did not unfairly “single out” senior citizens. They noted that developers who may want to build senior citizen or age-restricted housing in other parts of Ocean City have the right to bring their proposals before the planning or zoning boards for review.