OC Council Denies Proposed Light Vehicle Rental Business

OCEAN CITY — A reluctant council this week turned down a conditional use permit request for a new business looking to offer light vehicle rentals and Segway tours, leaving its future unknown.

The Mayor and Council had before them on Monday a request for a conditional use for a new business proposed for a location at 21st Street. The conditional use was requested for Light Riders, which would rent Polaris slingshot vehicles, which are three-wheeled, electric scooters, low-powered light mopeds and Segways.

The business would include guided Segway tours in the morning hours on the Boardwalk for groups, families or corporate team-building exercises. In April, the planning commission voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council after a lengthy debate with several conditions attached.

At Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Councilman Mark Paddack said he reviewed the planning commission’s findings of fact and recommendation. He was prepared to support the proposal.

“This was a lengthy transcript with lots of great comments from the commission members,” he said. “They are not renting one-wheelers and hoverboards, which are technically illegal on the Boardwalk and on sidewalks. The actual slingshots require driver’s licenses and are required to be insured. They are a lawful piece of manufactured equipment available all over the country. It’s important to remember it’s not the vehicle, it’s the person driving it.”

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Paddack made a motion to approve the conditional use permit request from the business with the conditions spelled out by the planning commission. However, none of his colleagues were quick to second the motion.

Light Riders business partner Alicia Jenkins said the company has a long safety record with its other operations and acknowledged the resort in the peak summer presented challenges.

“We know things can get a little crazy in Ocean City,” she said. “We will make sure everybody is capable and prepared before we send them out there. We will be there every single day to make sure that is happening.”

For his part, Mayor Rick Meehan said he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the slingshot rental aspect of the business model.

“I’m not a big fan of the slingshot,” he said. “With everything else we have out there on Coastal Highway, I’m not sure this is the best thing, but that’s up to the council.”

The discussion then switched to the proposed Segway tours on the Boardwalk aspect of the business plan. The company proposed to rent Segways to families, groups or individuals at the facility on 21st Street for guided tours on the Boardwalk or Assateague Island, for example. The rental process and training would take place at the facility at 21st Street, then the company would transport Segways to the Boardwalk end at 27th Street. The plan includes early morning tours starting at 7 a.m., and ending before 11 a.m. when the crowds start building on the Boardwalk.

There were concerns raised about unofficially conducting business on a public street. Concerns were also raised about utilizing street parking for the drop-off and pickup of the Segways. In addition, there were concerns raised about a group of people driving to the area near the end of the Boardwalk and parking their own vehicles on public streets for the tours.

“So, they will have to come to you at your facility to rent the Segways and get the training, then they will drive to 27th Street for the start of the tours?” said Councilman Frank Knight. “I’m not sure about that aspect of your business plan.”

Paddack’s motion to approve the conditional use permit request for Light Riders died for a lack of a second, essentially sandbagging the company’s proposed application. With essentially no action taken on the company’s request, it left the proprietors wondering what, if any, next steps could be taken to gain approval.

The couple waited through the lengthy meeting until the public comment period when they made an impassioned plea to have the council reconsider what was essentially a denial. The couple sought answers to what their next step could possibly be.

“We are a nationally-trademarked company and we are very concerned about safety,” said Robert Jenkins. “We thought we had gotten through the hard part and this was going to be a formality tonight. We have made a significant investment. It’s a very clean and safe business, and we want to make it safe and readily available for your visitors.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury explained the procedural rules in effect. Because the motion died for lack of a second, the issue would essentially be closed when Monday’s meeting was formally ended. There was an opportunity for the council to revisit the request, but there was an apparent lack of will to do that. Stansbury said she would have to look at the rules for revisiting the application request, but it would likely have to go back to the planning commission with revisions.

“I’m still unclear what they want to change in the application,” she said. “We will look into it closer if that’s the council’s desire.”

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.