Great news everyone! We were successful last night with our presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission! They are making a recommendation to approve OC Bay Hopper’s use of the Kiosk location as a water taxi hub. The recommendation will now be sent to the Mayor and City Council for a final approval in a few weeks! Thank you to everyone who expressed support or sent one of the 50 letters the commission received in support of our business!
Keep reading if you want a full report on the hearing and more details on what’s next!
Our hearing began at 7:00pm, and due to the winter weather in most of the state, many of our supporters weren’t able to attend in person. After some opening instructions about the hearing process, the Town’s Zoning Administrator read a report he had prepared that brought the commissioners up-to-speed on our application and some of the history (e.g. the Board of Port Wardens Hearing and opposition from neighbors). He finished his report with a recommendation that the Commission approve the conditional use application with a few conditions (more on that below).
We then spoke to the Commission and the audience to explain our plans in detail, clear up some of the misconceptions the neighbors had at our last hearing, and more fully introduce the partners behind the OC Bay Hopper. We spoke of our goals to connect North Ocean City to areas in the South/Inlet/West, why the Kiosk location is ideal for this type of business with many high-rise buildings and visitors within walking distance, the ample parking, and more. The commissioners asked some great questions about our hours of operation, and we tried to stress that we had a successful 6-week pilot launch last summer, but we still have more to learn and wanted to keep all options open.
At 50 minutes into the hearing, there was an opportunity for the public to provide testimony and we had two members of the community speak in support of our business. The property manager for the shopping center was able to share his viewpoint that we are a benefit to the community and that we had the support of the shopping center’s owner. The owner of a local well-known restaurant/bar spoke to the commissioners explaining how a water-taxi service would be an asset to the neighborhood. He answered questions about whether customers had mentioned the OC Bay Hopper or had ridden the taxi service last year, and he confirmed what we had mentioned in our opening remarks.
At the 60-minute mark, people attending to express their opposition began to speak. Many of the residents mentioned their concerns about noise, safety, congestion in the canal, and risks associated with transporting people who had spent the day at bars/drinking. Most of them included statements that they liked the idea of our business, some even hoped we were successful, but simply didn’t want this in their canal/back yard.
There were several moments where the commissioners and the person speaking in opposition had a discussion. Regarding concerns about noise levels, one commissioner explained how much easier it is to address a complaint about noise with a business owner and gave examples from his own neighborhood. Regarding safety, a commissioner asked rhetorically if the person felt comforted knowing that the boats for our operation would have licensed US Coast Guard Master Captains aboard. There was even an insightful explanation to the audience that they may find having professionals on the canal are an asset to the residents. Another commissioner remarked how there are some activities that you can do safely in the off-season, such as bicycling on main roads, but cannot during the season as Ocean City is a successful resort town. Regarding congestion, that a boat with a licensed Captain would be better in tight situations than an unlicensed boat owner.
One resident brought a concern about an Town ordinance restricting water-oriented businesses from being greater than 300 ft from the open water. Fortunately, one of the commissioners addressed the resident’s concerns and explained that there is no ordinance, that there are guidelines, but they don’t apply to this type of business: they were drafted to address water sports rental companies to ensure safety (and include requirements such as a rescue boat with 25 hp engine to help sail boats return to the dock).
Finally, We were given the chance to provide a rebuttal to the opposition and spoke briefly about some of the policies we already have in place: our commitment to operate the canals at slow speed (bare steerageway), be the give-way vessel in a crossing and narrow situation, and we answered a few final questions from the commissioners. We once again explained how the Kiosk was the ideal location and that we had searched for other suitable homes in Ocean City without success.
With the hearing closed, the commissioners deliberated to make some final conclusions and decide the conditions that should be imposed on our operation. Each of the commissioner’s remarks were in support of our use, and they made insightful comments about our business plan, some of the challenges we will face, and that they should not hamstring our business as we need to remain flexible to survive. They ruled to recommend approval of our Conditional Use with some conditions applied, including:
- A 24-month term for our permit,
- No amplified music from the Kiosk or the boats while operating in the canal,
- Only two boats can be docked at the Kiosk and the dock must have signs posted for our use only, and,
- We must abide by posted speed limits and use boats appropriately sized for narrow canals.
The recommendation and a transcript of the hearing will now be compiled into a report and submitted to the Mayor and City Council for review and approval. That could happen in about two weeks at their regular meeting. We’ll let you know!
Thanks again to everyone who has supported us and especially those of you who wrote letters to the commission.
Adam, David, Jeff, and Steve