OCEAN CITY — Simulated wave machines, such as the Flow Rider proposed for a downtown site last year, belong in amusement parks and not just anywhere in town, resort planners opined this week.
Last year, a downtown business owner requested permission to install a wave machine on a vacant lot that was part of the old Cropper concrete plant on the bayside at 1st Street. Satisfied the wave machine fit the definition of a water-related recreational activity, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) granted a special use exception for the site, but it was never developed.
Instead, the prospective business owner made a pitch to develop the wave machine at the 45th Street Village site, but that proposal was challenged and the appeal is still active in Worcester County Circuit Court. In the meantime, the Planning and Zoning Commission has been wrestling with a clear definition of the proposed wave machine and similar devices, how they fit into the zoning code and, consequently, where they can be located.
On Tuesday, the commission approved a new definition that classifies wave machines such as the Flow Rider as amusement devices that should only be allowed in amusement overlay districts. The new definition separates the wave machine and similar man-made devices from traditional water-related recreational activities such as jet skis and wave runners, for example. The new definition lumps wave machines into a class of man-made water-related recreational activities such as water parks and water slides, which are regulated by the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) and does not allow them anywhere outside the resort’s amusement overlay districts.
“Some time ago, a request was made for a wave action device at the old Cropper concrete property,” said Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith. “At the time, we weren’t entirely sure where it fit into our zoning code for water-related recreational activities. The BZA ruled it did qualify as a water-related recreational activity,” Smith said.
However, with the proposed wave machine still mired in a court appeal, the planning commission on Tuesday was looking to tighten that definition.
“We’re looking at this as an amusement device regulated by the state and as such, it should be located within an amusement overlay district,” said Smith. “It should be an amusement device because it is not water-bound like a jet ski or a wave runner, for example. We need to clarify the definition. Some types of water-related activities belong in amusement parks, like water slides and lazy rivers and such.”
Planning Commission Chair Pam Buckley said the distinction should be those activities that are utilized in the bay or in the ocean and not in a pool on the land, for example.
“I think the definition of water-related recreational activities should include those activities that are done in their natural state, and not something that is man-made,” she said. “When something is man-made, it falls into the category of an amusement device.”
Planning Commission Attorney Will Esham said the definition approved on Tuesday would limit wave machines to strictly amusement parks.
“Under this language, they would not be allowed at the 94th Street mall, for example,” he said. “Following that same logic, the old water slide at 65th Street would not have been able to be built.”