(Feb. 15, 2019) Adam Douglass and his business partners Dave and Steve Butz have had to navigate through the opposition of residents and municipal permit snags as they try to establish a home port for their uber boat business. In doing so, they say their business isn’t what many people think it is.
Last August, the group developed a trial run of their water taxi service called OC Bay Hopper, which is set up in a kiosk near Food Lion on 117th Street. Brothers Dave and Steve Butz partnered with Douglass and came up with the idea last year. The plan was set into motion last February.
The partners signed a three-year lease for the kiosk location and began testing the operation by taking passengers to various bars, restaurants and tourist locations on the resort’s bayside.
“We aim to be a safe, reliable, and convenient water-based transportation option for people in Ocean City,” Co-owner Douglass said. “We want to be family-oriented, allowing people to experience the bayside while traveling to a restaurant, or joining us on a unique experience such as the fireworks at Northside park, a tour of Assateague [Island], or a demonstration of crabbing.”
The startup ran a trial for six weeks last summer with one 27-foot long boat. The vessel was operated by a licensed captain and transported guests to destinations ranging from Harpoon Hanna’s in Fenwick down to Assateague Island.
The partners considered their six-week trial run a success, and ordered a second boat as well as a permit for an American Disabilities Act-compliant ramp and floating dock. This request began the business’s struggle with the Ocean City government and the business’s neighbors.
Many residents of the Newport Bay Drive, a neighborhood which shares a canal with the operation, oppose the business operation and the installation of the ramp. In some instances, neighbors concluded the organization would be running a boat rental service, with its multiple boats clogging the canal.
“The opposition to our business really caught us off guard because of how well things went [this summer],” Douglass said. “We operated for six weeks last summer without complaint. We did so after seeking approval from the Town of Ocean City to use our kiosk location at the Ocean City Square Shopping Center.
“Right at the end of the year, we found out that there were people writing in opposing our project, which really caught us off guard because we were like, ‘Why would they oppose a floating ramp and a pier?’ Then we learned that it was actually people who are opposed to us being at that location at all.”
When the OC Bay Hopper came before City Council for a marine construction hearing on Thursday, Jan. 10, several residents expressed their concerns about the size of the business, having heard that as many as four boats would be coming through the canal. That will not be the case, Douglass said.
“We won’t be renting jet skis, or boats or paddle boards or anything else,” Douglass said. “The amount of traffic that will be added to the canal is very minimal. Next summer, we’d have two boats. This is all we’re really capable of doing. Additionally, it’s not as though we’re making that location a frequent stop.
“I don’t expect that our boats are going to be back and forth, back and forth down that canal all day long,” he continued. “It’s really one small area of the entire bay that we just happen to feel that’s a good kind of home base for us because we live so close.”
One complaint concerned the belief that the business would be employing 50-foot long catamaran, which is not the case, Douglass said.
“It is not logistically possible to bring a boat of that size up the bay that far,” Douglass said. “It would never be able to get underneath the Route 90 Bridge and it would certainly never fit down the canal. But we do have a sailing boat that is totally separate from OC Bay Hopper that we want to bring in Ocean City and let people go out on the ocean.”
As for people being able to rent the boats or use them for parties, Douglass said, “No one from the public will be able to get on a boat of ours and drive it away. Every one of our boats will always have a licensed US Coast Guard licensed Master Captain at the helm.”
During the January hearing, all parties discovered that while the business had received a permit to open the kiosk at the 117th Street location, it had not received one to operate the water taxi service.
“While we were at City Hall trying to get a permit for a sign around our little kiosk … we learned that the town was forcing us to go through this conditional use zoning process, which basically means they feel like a water taxi is not explicitly permitted in the zoning ordinances and that the only way that we can operate a water taxi there is if we go through this process where we get a conditional use permit,” Douglass said.
“We weren’t trying to skirt the rules,” Douglass said. “We got to hear a lot of people and what kind of complaints they had. I hope that we got to clear up some of the misinformation that people were misunderstanding … that we weren’t trying to operate illegally.”
A public hearing for the OC Bay Hopper to obtain the conditional use permit will take place Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
“We will make our case to the Planning and Zoning Commission on why we should be able to use this location as a water taxi,” Douglass said. “I’ll be there to present on the business and tell people what our plans are how we’re going to operate. And then the planning and zoning commission will make a determination as to whether or not we should be able to use that location.”