OCEAN CITY – The city is moving toward gaining more control on scooter rental businesses and in the meantime has placed a moratorium on issuing new licenses until the policies are in place.
Last week, a discussion regarding business licenses brought up council’s concerns with scooter rental operations and whether more controls are needed in issuing scooter business licenses.
Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston is recommending transferring the issue into the hands of the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals. The choice between the two would be whether the Mayor and City Council would want to have the authority of approval over a conditional use recommended by the commission or leave the decision to the board with a special exception.
“Really planning and zoning is where the process should start and if we want to make sure that there is certain criteria that scooter rentals have to meet,” Acting City Manager/Mayor Rick Meehan said. “This is a very big first step in trying to control something that really needs to have some type of oversight.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas set the motion to remand the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission to begin the process of regulating scooter rentals and the council unanimously agreed.
Houston said a public hearing will be scheduled before the commission as soon as possible, at the earliest date February 22, so that the council will have a recommendation by the beginning of March to form an ordinance.
Next, Pillas questioned the time lapse until an ordinance is in place and whether new scooter businesses should have the opportunity to be issued a license within that period.
“We know there are people out there looking for every parking lot available and until we get these conditions in place do we want to open this up to new businesses?,” she said. “It is a lot of capital to start up a scooter business … I just don’t want people out there to think they can start setting up shop without knowing what the conditions will be.”
Meehan agreed that an ordinance should be written in the mean time to place a moratorium on scooter business licenses.
“Once they have it, taking something away is very difficult and nothing has been proposed to be grandfathered,” he said. “I think the clearest message would be not to issue any further licenses or renew any licenses until we have a report back and make a final decision.”
Councilman Joe Hall disagreed, saying a moratorium is making it harder than it needs to be and the council can simply instruct the business license department to advise scooter rentals that the city is in the process of regulating scooter rental licenses.
“I think a smart business person would say ‘I better hold off’,” he said.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the city does not have authority not to issue a scooter rental license without an ordinance in place.
“If they meet the criteria than without an ordinance on a moratorium, you can’t stop them from issuing a license,” he said.
Pillas set a second motion to place a 90-day moratorium on scooter rental business licenses to be lifted when the conditional uses are set. The council voted 5-2, with Joe Hall and Brent Ashley in opposition, to approve the moratorium.