By Donald WittkowskiSome 20 years ago, Ocean City decided to enhance the appearance of the downtown shopping district by dressing up the sidewalks with decorative redbrick pavers and small metal grates for shade trees.But what was thought of as a good idea then has come back to haunt the city. Over the years, those redbrick pavers and tree grates have caused the sidewalks to shift, settle and sink. That, in turn, has created a tripping hazard resulting in slip-and-fall lawsuits being filed against the city.Hoping to make the sidewalks both safer and more attractive, the seven-member City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance Thursday night to remove the pavers and tree grates and repair the damaged sidewalks.“Over time, these pavers and tree grates, or some of them, have shifted or settled, and may, at times, provide an uneven surface, which can be difficult for strollers, wheelchairs and persons using canes, walkers and crutches to easily traverse,” the ordinance says.Some sections of sidewalk in the downtown area are badly cracked or uneven.The main areas targeted for an overhaul are the sidewalks on the Asbury Avenue shopping corridor between Fifth and 14th streets. Also slated for a makeover are sidewalks on Eighth Street from West Avenue to the Boardwalk, Ninth Street from the bridge to the Boardwalk and 10th Street from West Avenue to the Boardwalk.The pavers and tree grates were required about 20 years ago in “bygone ordinances,” before the city’s existing streetscaping standards were put in place. Unintentionally, those old ordinances resulted in a patchwork of designs and decorative touches in the sidewalks throughout the downtown area.City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told City Council the damaged sidewalks will be repaired with a fresh coat of concrete that will give the downtown district a uniform look. A newly built stretch of concrete sidewalk on Asbury Avenue in front of City Hall will serve as a model.A newly built stretch of concrete sidewalk on Asbury Avenue in front of City Hall will serve as a model for the rest of downtown.Although the city will rebuild damaged sections of the sidewalks, the onus for maintaining the sidewalks in good shape will continue to fall on the business owners, McCrosson said in an interview after the Council meeting. As has been the case in years past, the business owners are required to maintain the sidewalks in front of their stores, she noted.In another vote Thursday, Council unanimously approved a new ordinance that requires homeowners to install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, if they rent out rooms.The measure responds to an emerging trend in room rentals at private homes through lodging websites such as Airbnb. With homeowners now able to easily rent out rooms using online providers, the city wants to make sure the proper safety codes are met.“The whole thrust of this (ordinance) is the safety of rental units,” McCrosson said.Under the proposed ordinance, homeowners would be required to have a mercantile license before renting any single- or two-family home. The fee for the license would be $30, plus a $145 Ocean City Tourism Commission fee. There must also be an inspection for smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers in the home.City Council also approved a new ordinance that requires private homeowners to follow safety requirements such as installing smoke detectors when they rent out rooms.The Ocean City, N.J., Hospitality Association, a trade group representing the local lodging industry, worked with Council on the ordinance. Karen Morella, the hospitality association’s secretary, said it is important that homeowners who rent rooms to the public fall under the same stringent safety standards and inspections as the rest of the lodging industry.“They are doing the same type of business as we are doing,” Morella said.Morella, appearing on behalf of the hospitality association at the Council meeting, thanked the governing body for approving the ordinance. The association represents the hotels, motels, B&Bs and guest houses in town.In an interview after the meeting, Morella said the ordinance is “the start of the leveling of the playing field” between the homeowners and the lodging industry. Although the private homeowners must now follow tougher safety standards, Morella said they are not yet up to the same rigorous standards as other lodging establishments.In other business, two Ocean City High School teams that captured South Jersey championships this season were honored in City Council resolutions.The Red Raiders girls basketball team won a school-record 30 games while advancing all the way to the state title game, dropping a nail biter to Pascack Valley.In the playoffs, they topped Mainland to grab the South Jersey Group 3 championship and beat Ewing in an overtime thriller in the state semifinals. During the regular season, they shared the Cape-Atlantic League championship with Mainland.Ocean City High School girls swim coach Steve Warrington, center, accepted honors on behalf of his South Jersey championship team from members of City Council, including Keith Hartzell, left, and Tony Wilson.Also receiving honors from Council was the girls swimming team. For the second straight year, the Red Raiders swim team made it to the state championship meet, but fell short to Chatham. Last year, Ocean City beat Chatham to win the state Public B title.This season, the swim team racked up its fourth straight South Jersey championship and also captured its fourth consecutive Cape-Atlantic League title.“We’re going to build. We’re going to continue to be successful,” girls swim coach Steve Warrington told Council while accepting the resolution. Plans call for fixing damaged sections of sidewalk throughout Ocean City’s downtown shopping area to make them safer for pedestrians.