(March 1, 2019) The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission endorsed a water taxi service’s request for a conditional use permit last Wednesday, after considering neighborhood concerns about potential noise and traffic problems.
OC Bay Hopper partners Adam Douglass, Steve and Dave Butz will now go before the City Council for permission to operate their business from a kiosk set up on a canal near 117th Street.
Last August, the company developed a trial run of their water taxi service. 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.
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.
During a January hearing, the partners 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. OC Bay Hopper applied for a conditional use permit, and had a hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“A conditional use permit is an opportunity for the public to come to a public hearing to hear a use that may be implied, but may need some conditions imposed to alleviate any potential impacts on the community or surrounding neighborhoods,” Zoning Administrator Frank Hall said during the hearing.
Douglass said the business was an opportunity to expand transportation services throughout the resort.
“We aim to be a safe, reliable, and convenient water-based transportation option for people in Ocean City,” 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.”
Hall agreed that there could be some positive influences as a result of the water taxi operation.
“The water taxi’s input on the overall transportation situation might be small, but it would provide an interesting addition to Ocean City’s recreational opportunities, and could become its own attraction,” Hall said. “In our town, we have emphasized multi-modal transportation significantly. Opportunities to promote such a water taxi service … should be explored.”
However, some residents of the Newport Bay Drive, a neighborhood that shares a canal with the operation, opposed the business operation and the installation of the ramp. In some instances, neighbors mistakenly believed the business would involve boat rentals, with its multiple boats clogging the canal.
“A water taxi business in this area will create many hardships and greatly affect the quality of living in the canal for all the residents that have been residing here for over 40 years,” Newport Bay resident Mary Kirkner told the planning commission. “We bought our unit to be near the water and enjoy the peacefulness of the canal … it’s not meant to be a marina.”
Kirkner also voiced concerns about noise violations, as her home is situated close to the headquarters of the operation.
Councilman Palmer Gillis acknowledged her concerns, but asked about other solutions instead of relocating the business itself.
“I live near Jolly Rogers … and sometimes there is noise,” Gillis said. “I call them up and they take care of it. It seems to me that here, you can call Mr. Douglass and say, “Control your occupants on your boat.”
The commission decided, however, the noise could be controlled and agreed to recommend approval of conditional use permit for the next two years with a maximum of two boats.