SNOW HILL – County officials this week did not approve an agreement that would have allowed a sailboat to dock at the West Ocean City Harbor.
A motion to approve a one-year lease for the sailboat Alyosha at the West Ocean City Harbor failed on Tuesday. Though three commissioners supported it, two were opposed and there was one who abstained. The motion would have needed the support of a majority of the board — four commissioners — to pass.
In early September, the commissioners approved a resolution that allowed them to designate a portion of the harbor for county joint ventures. Immediately after, they conceptually approved a lease agreement with Thrive Engineering LLC (Stephen Butz) that would allow the 50-foot Alyosha to be docked at the harbor. The commissioners did, however, set a public hearing for Oct. 1 to allow citizens to comment on the proposal before it was formally approved.
Even before the public hearing was opened Tuesday, Commissioner Jim Bunting voiced concern with the lease.
“I’ve had calls about how busy the harbor is and how this is going to affect it,” he said.
He pointed out that Alyosha was at times chartered for weddings. He asked whether parking requirements associated with that use had been explored. Perlozzo said the boat was licensed for six passengers and he figured parking for that number wouldn’t be a problem.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said he liked the idea of partnering with Alyosha for advertising but did not like the fact that the boat would be docking in the harbor.
When asked how much advertising would be done, Perlozzo said a conservative estimate was $50,000.
Bunting stressed that he didn’t think leasing space to Alyosha was an appropriate use of public space.
“I think there’s other areas in that harbor that would take him,” he said.
When the public hearing was opened, Floyd Bassett, a former commissioner, said he thought the area was quite busy already.
“That’s a real gem that we have there,” he said. “However, it’s crowded. If you don’t think so, go there on a Saturday in the summer. I can’t picture anything else going there that adds to it.”
He added that he and other boaters had used the space proposed to be leased to Alyosha in the past when they’d had emergencies that required them to leave a boat docked for a period of time.
Commercial fisherman Sonny Gwin said he was worried that leasing this space would set a precedent and lead to similar arrangements in the harbor.
Commissioner Bud Church said that was not the county’s intention.
“We’re not going to take your slips away,” he said.
He added that the county would be getting a lot in return for the agreement, as there was an $8,500 annual payment as well as the estimated $50,000 in advertising.
Hugh Cropper, a local attorney, told the commissioners he and some partners owned property near Mad Fish, which is where the Alyosha picks up its passengers. He said the boat’s owner was “a first-class operator” but that the boat extended beyond Cropper’s property.
“Half the boat’s on our property,” Cropper said. “Our boat slips were not accessible when he was there.”
He added that if the county was interested in a lease, it should pursue a one-year lease rather than a five-year lease.
Cropper pointed out that the fact that Alyosha encroached on his property wasn’t really the county’s concern but said it could mean that the boat would have to find a new loading location.
Bunting maintained that by leasing the space to Alyosha the county was taking it away from the public.
Perlozzo said the sailboat would be docked directly in front of the restrooms and would not take up any of the commercial boat space.
“There’s no intent whatsoever to take away commercial spaces now or in the future,” Perlozzo said. “Where he loads and unloads, he has an agreement with a local restaurant. I do believe it is an attraction to West Ocean City. When he puts his flags up, there is an opportunity to promote the area beyond the commercial harbor … I’m not a voting member but since I’ve taken over the boat ramps, in traveling to and from and observing the area, I don’t see any adverse effect to the recreational fishermen, the parking lot or anything associated with the harbor.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino pointed out that if the Alyosha did not have permission to load passengers where it currently did, that could start taking place on the property leased from the county.
“Who’s going to police that?” he said. “I think there’s a number of challenges associated with using that location.”
Perlozzo said if the Alyosha was successful, it would hardly be present in the harbor, as it would be out sailing.
When Bunting again brought up the issue of parking, Perlozzo acknowledged the area already had a problem and said he didn’t think it would get any worse with the addition of the Alyosha.
“I think West Ocean City, the harbor in itself, has parking issues in general,” he said. “There’s abandoned trailers, there’s storage units, etc. I deal with that pretty much weekly. I don’t see any additional effects that the Alyosha will have at the parking lot. In fact, I think we have to address how we handle the parking lot in the coming budget year.”
Nordstrom made a motion to approve the lease with Alyosha for one year.
“That way we’ll have the opportunity to see if it’s causing problems,” he said.
The vote failed with a 3-2-1 vote. Nordstrom and Commissioners Ted Elder and Diana Purnell voted in favor of the motion while Bunting and Bertino were opposed. Church abstained and Commissioner Joe Mitrecic was absent.