Planning Commission Approves Light Vehicle Operation; Segway Tours OK’d On Boards

OCEAN CITY — Somewhat reluctant resort planners on Tuesday approved a conditional use request for a new business including light vehicle rentals and Segway tours on the Boardwalk.

The Ocean City Planning Commission on Tuesday was asked to grant a conditional use for a new business proposed for a location at 21st Street and Philadelphia Avenue. The conditional use approval was requested for a new proposed business called Light Riders, which would rent Polaris Slingshot vehicles, essentially three-wheeled scoot coupes, electric scooters, low-powered light mopeds and Segways out of their location at 21st Street.

The business would also include guided Segway tours on the Boardwalk for groups, families or corporate team-building exercises. In that scenario, groups would make arrangements at the store and the Segways would be delivered to the north end of the Boardwalk at 27th Street where guides would lead the outings. The Segway tours would be conducted early in the morning and would be gone from the Boardwalk before the daily crowds started building.

Light Riders would be owned and operated by Robert and Alicia Jenkins, who currently own the Vahalla Indoor Axe-Throwing franchise business with locations around the country. At the store, Light Riders would also sell one-wheelers and hoverboards along with other retail merchandise.

Under the proposal, the facility at 21st Street and Philadelphia Avenue would include training areas inside including a simulated roadway and there would be extensive training, safety equipment checks and license and insurance checks before any renters would be allowed on public roadways including Coastal Highway.

The planning commission ultimately approved the conditional use for the new business, but not before a marathon debate about safety concerns and other issue. Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy gave an overview of the staff report and recommendations to the planning commission.

“It’s basically talking about the type of vehicles,” she said. “The two slingshot vehicles for rent would be parked on two spaces to the rear of the building. Everything else, including the Segways and the electric scooters for rent would be inside with a training area for the renters before they go out.”

Alicia Jenkins explained a little about the couple’s background.

“Our main business is franchising indoor axe-throwing businesses,” she said. “We know this is different, but we know a lot about safety. We’ll be here year-round. We got married here and we’re living here, so we’re very excited.”

Alicia Jenkins explained the rigorous training renters would go through before being allowed out on the streets.

“The training program will be inside the venue itself,” she said. “There will be a simulated roadway down the middle inside the facility with cones and stop signs and other traffic markings. Each person will be given a physical and written exam and we’ll make sure helmets and all other safety equipment is being used properly before we send anyone out. We won’t rent to anyone who does not meet our requirements.”

Alicia Jenkins said the Segway rental tours on the Boardwalk would be held in the early morning hours and explained bicycles are allowed between 2 a.m. and noon. She said Light Riders would likely start their Boardwalk activity at 7 a.m., however.

“We would like to rent the same hours bicycles are allowed on the Boardwalk, which is 2 a.m. to noon,” she said. “We would like to start at 7 a.m. with a focus on the early morning hours for the guided Segway tours. We don’t want to do anything at night. The customer would meet with the guides and everybody will enjoy a safe experience.”

Planning Commissioner Kevin Rohe expressed concern about the number of rented Segways on the Boardwalk during the summer months when there are families with small children on bikes or walking even in the early hours.

“Safety is critical,” he said. “That concerns me with little children on the Boardwalk. I’ve seen it first-hand.”

Alicia Jenkins attempted to allay concerns about the Segways, which would only reach about six mph.

“These Segways are pretty slow for the most part,” she said. “If you go too fast, they will stop you. I would like to do the tours at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and then be done for the day. We will not be out there when the Boardwalk starts to get crowded.”

Planning Commissioner Palmer Gillis voiced concern about adding rented vehicles of all shapes and sizes to the already-congested area of town. He asked about the Segway tours and how the equipment gets from the 21st Street shop to the Boardwalk.

“My biggest concern is getting the equipment from the shop to the Boardwalk,” he said. “Is this all going on Coastal Highway? That’s what really scares me.”

Planning Commissioner Lauren Taylor voiced some safety concerns, and also some concerns about the amount of parking the operation would take up at the Boardwalk’s end at 27th Street.

“I have two grandchildren,” she said. “I want to know the operation. So, does someone go into the shop and make a reservation for the next morning for their group or family for the guided Segway tours? People on the guided tours will be parking on a public parking lot and there might be six people on the tour. That could be six cars on the public parking lot there.”

Robert Jenkins attempted to allay concerns about the operation’s impact on parking in the area. She said the company would target groups from hotels along the Boardwalk, who could walk from their accommodations to the early morning tours.

“The Boardwalk operation will be very early in the morning,” he said. “It will not be an all-day thing up there.”

Still, the planning commission had concerns about the safety of adding more and more traffic to the already congested Boardwalk, especially in the summer.

“I ride all the time up there,” said Rohe. “There will be a lot of people up there even early in the morning. On the Fourth of July it will be packed that early. I just have concerns about the safety. This board’s primary function is life and safety.”

The lone citizen speaking in opposition to the proposal during the public hearing was local resident Shawn Harman, who owns and operates businesses in close proximity to the proposed location, including Fish Tales and Bahia Marina, for example.

“We have two head boats going out at 7 a.m.,” he said. “We start renting boats at 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. The amount of traffic coming down 22nd Street is phenomenal. It’s hard to cross Coastal Highway. The amount of traffic in that area is ridiculous.

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville said the proposed rental of electric scooters on the Boardwalk would not be allowed under the current code. A couple of years ago, the Mayor and Council prohibited all electric vehicles on the Boardwalk.

“E-bikes are not allowed on the Boardwalk at any time,” he said. “The majority of the council voted against E-bikes of any kind on the Boardwalk. Their concern was no motorized vehicles of any kind. They only thing allowed are the Segways.”

Neville also said delivering the Segways and setting up the tours at 27th Street tiptoed around what is allowed under the code.

“We don’t allow any business of this kind to be conducted on the Boardwalk or on the street ends,” he said. “This is close to crossing a line with the proposed use of the drop-off plan at 27th Street.”

Attorney Pete Cosby, who represented the Jenkins’ and Light Riders at the hearing, made a case for his clients citing the town’s comprehensive plan. He acknowledged the business plan was a little different, but urged the commission to give his clients a chance to prove their safety record.

“I just want to point out a couple of things from the comprehensive plan,” he said. “It calls for supporting small local businesses and enhancing commercial. We are on a frontier here. I know I’ve learned a lot tonight.”

Planning Commissioner Joe Wilson seemed inclined to approve the conditional use request with several conditions attached and made a motion to send a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

“These applicants have demonstrated a safety record,” he said. “I think we need to at least consider this with some conditions attached.”

Gillis said he was inclined to agree if the safety issues were addressed with the conditions attached to approval.

“I’m trying to find a way to say yes to this,” he said. “If there was anybody to say yes to, it would be you guys. It’s the right idea. I’m just thinking it’s not the right place. You guys are awesome. I just have life-safety concerns. I’m not quite sold on your location.”

Rohe said he still had concerns about the street safety issues in the congested area.

“Your presentation was great and it’s a unique business,” he said. “Again, I reiterate the congestion in that area is unbelievable. I’m not quite sold on your location.”

Planning Commission chair Pam Buckley explained the double-edged purview of the advisory body.

“We are here for health and safety,” she said. “We are also here to keep activity alive and provide unique things for the visitors.”

Buckley agreed the presentation was a good one, but was still on the fence about approving the conditional use request over safety issues.

“You are adorable, and we would love to have you here as a business,” she said. “I just have life-safety concerns. It’s a tough one for me. We don’t want you not to be able to have a business here.”

Buckley suggested the approval could be conditioned as a trial basis of sorts.

“We can do it for a year with the conditions in place and if there are no violations or problems, we can review it again after the summer,” she said.

After considerable debate, Wilson amended his motion to include all of the conditions and recommendations of the staff, along with conditions imposed by the planners. The favorable recommendation was conditioned on an 18-month trial basis, or essentially two seasons, with the business owners coming back with an overall review of any safety issues after the first season. That motion passed on a 5-1 vote with Taylor opposed.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.