OCEAN CITY – A proposed parasailing operation’s potential economic benefit and the concerns of residents fighting it were weighed this week by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Joshua Farr, a certified United States Coast Guard (USCG) captain, approached the commission during a public hearing on Tuesday night in hopes of operating a parasailing business out of the lagoon located in Ocean City Square on 117th Street bayside, owned by Peddler Square Inc.
Farr would run a parasailing boat approximately 28 feet in length. The boat would dock in the boat basin, receive its patrons and move down the canal into the bay to conduct its operation. There is an existing building on site that he would house his business.
Along the surrounding waterways, there is a large amount of residential properties and communities. Property owners attended the public hearing attempting to discourage the commission from allowing the business to run up and down the canal leading into the bay.
According to Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith, the town sent out several hundred notices of the proposed parasailing business to every property along the connecting waterways in that area. In return, the department received 25 letters in opposition from the communities of Baywatch I and Baywatch III Condo Association and the Heron Harbour Isle owners.
Farr has an extensive background in the water sports business. His family owned a jet ski and parasail rental business in the past formally known as Base Boards Unlimited for about 10 years.
“I have been licensed professionally with the Coast Guard for the last six years,” Farr said. “Prior to that, I have a lifetime of experience on and around the water … I feel very confident in operating this boat and doing everything I can not to inhibit anyone in this canal. I certainly realize and understand that operating in a safe manner is not only for my success but for positive relations with the neighbors.”
According to Farr’s testimony, he said there are currently other boats that exceed 28 feet in length that reside in the canal. He said that at least 80 percent of the boats in the canal are on boat lifts. On an ideal day, he would conduct six trips a day and plans his hours of operation would run from 8:30 a.m. until around 6 p.m.
Farr explained that noise would not be an issue for surrounding residents. He will instruct his mate to not give directions of the operations until the boat enters the open bay as well as would instruct his patrons to remain orderly. He added that the engine of the boat would be an inboard/outboard diesel and in his experience exerts a minimal amount of noise.
“This is a very large expanse of a lagoon with plenty of docking space on a commercial property,” Farr’s attorney Pete Cosby said. “It is a waste of a commercial resource that goes against the grain of the comprehensive plan at this point in time.”
According to Cosby, the comprehensive plan states that existing commercial development can accommodate more intense usage and Ocean City should promote that to its maximum efficiency in balance with the interest of the people in the neighborhood. Also, Ocean City faces important future challenges. The economy even more so than in the past will rely on the resort emphasis on its economic generator, he said. In the past, land development shared this role to some extent. If the town approaches build out, development will be less prominent consequently and the town should concentrate on keeping trends in the tourism industry.
“I have never seen a more appropriate place to put this boat. Where it has visibility from Coastal Highway…and makes Ocean City an exciting and vibrant place,” Cosby said. “We understand that you [residents] have concerns and we are gearing this operation of making that impact where you won’t be affected.”
Larry Sawyer, manager of Ocean City Square Shopping Center, was in attendance to represent the owner of Peddler Square Inc., and spoke in favor of Farr’s operation.
“We are presently operating with 20 percent vacancy,” Sawyer said. “We need to attract any possible tenants that would make our shopping center more viable and not be a detriment to any of the patrons of the shopping center or the people that live up and down the lagoon.”
Sawyer explained that the owner has the choice of operating a boat marina out of the lagoon that would be able to contain at least 50 boats because the basin is 1,000 feet wide. He said that there are no plans in doing so but made the comparison so that the residents would realize the difference in congestion 50 boats would make when compared to one parasailing boat.
“We respectfully request that you look favorably on this man’s application and in doing so take it one step further and help the business of this town in making sure it stays viable,” Sawyer said. “We lost over 50 percent of our commercial property in this town due to residential building in the last 20 years.”
Resident Pete Skilton of Baywatch III said that when he bought his property he planned on the area remaining residential and he never expected a commercial business to move in. He was also concerned over the boat traffic and the congestion in the canal that already exists.
“There are deep sea fishers in the area with large boats that create trouble passing at times,” Skilton said.
Bob Simpson who also lives in Baywatch III, said that the area is a peaceful quiet summer residence. He added that he moved north to escape the noise and chaos of downtown Ocean City.
“There are children that play in that bay area and I just think there is a better place you can find to run this boat operation,” Simpson said.
Jean Peppard, who lives on Newport Bay Dr., reiterated the existing issue of the congestion in the canal. She is also concerned of the amount of children that play in the bay and their safety.
“I just think you can find a better location rather than our canal…you have to be very careful,” she said.
The last speaker was Stan Kahn of Newport Bay Dr., who said he has lived there for 32 years and is a fulltime resident. He asserted that it is a residential area and he too wished for Farr to look elsewhere.
“I don’t want commercial boating in my canal,” he said.
In closing, Farr explained that he understood all of the residents’ concerns but if permitted he hopes to convince them his business will create no adverse effects to their style of living.
“I would love to have a very open communication with you guys so if ever comes to a point with some concern please approach me and I will certainly address them,” he said.
The commission weighed the pros and cons of the situation. Commission member Peck Miller had concern over the fact the business would directly run in a residential area and the commission thrives to protect the sanctity of residential districts.
Commission member Lauren Taylor rebutted that the shopping center is already there and Farr’s business would not bring any more business patrons than the shopping center already does.
“Just because you bought a house 20 years ago doesn’t mean that building wasn’t going to allow people to do other things,” she said.
Commission Secretary John Staley said that the boat would create no more noise than is already in the area.
“I can’t see anything where there’s a problem with this,” he said.
Taylor made the motion to recommend a one-year conditional approval of the parasail business to run out of the boat basin located on 117th Street bayside. The commission voted unanimously to recommend the approval to the Mayor and City Council.
“Safety is at the forefront of my operation as a captain running the boat and as a passenger on the boat,” Farr said “For liability reasons alone, it can make or break you. Having a lifetime of experience on the water, I have seen the good, bad, and the ugly.”