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Wrightsville Beach
Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Town discovers boat rental loophole

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While boat rental companies have operated within the town of Wrightsville Beach for years, town staff only recently discovered the business model is not expressly listed as a permitted use within the town. When prospective Care Free Boat Club owner Scott Weismantel applied for a business permit he had no idea it would require a months-long process.

“I felt bad, I didn’t even know,” Weismantel said during a Tuesday, Jan. 13 phone interview. “I just applied knowing there was an existing boat club and boat rentals in the area.”

After receiving Weismantel’s application, town staff alerted existing rental companies Reliant Marine and Nauti Times Boat Rentals that their business was not a permitted use.

While both businesses have been allowed to operate as normal since then and will incur no fines, town manager Tim Owens said both would have to comply once the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen decide how to handle the issue. During the board’s Thursday, Jan. 8, meeting, the board directed town planning staff to create an ordinance permitting boat rentals within town limits.

“The town attorney and planning staff will develop an ordinance,” Owens said during a Tuesday, Jan. 13 phone interview. “One will be the option to look at it as a conditional use permit or a permitted use with conditions . . . so we are going to let the planning board and board of aldermen look at both of them.”

The board of aldermen will have the ultimate decision about which process boat rental companies would have to follow with the conditional use permit option potentially being the more stringent of the two.

“The conditional use permit process is usually more restrictive because you have a list of conditions you have to meet but the board may place more restrictive parameters on it depending on the case,” Owens said.

Boat rental operations would likely be limited to the town’s C-3 district, which encompasses the businesses along Old Causeway Drive, Keel Street, Short Street, Marina Street and the area around the old Scotchman on Salisbury Street.

Reliant Marine owner Marty Foerster said his business has been in operation for nine years without the town noticing the loophole.

“People were renting and chartering boats here already and we started with people owning shared boats,” Foerster said. “We didn’t know it was an issue.”

The conditions the town could place on boat rental companies may range from anything like prohibiting boat trailers in visible areas to enacting certain requirements for training and insurance, Owens said.

Both Foerster and Weismantel said their companies ensure boaters are responsible and secure in their operation of the vessel before leaving the dock.

While Care Free Boat Club is solely a membership-based club, Reliant also offers a boat club membership and Foerster said locals often join those clubs.

“It is for people who continue to use boats on a more frequent basis,” Foerster said. “It makes it very affordable and the people that do that are primarily locals that come to the beach a lot.”

Foerster and Weismantel said town staff assured them the issue will not prevent them from operating their businesses and it is just a matter of time before their businesses are validated.

Owens said the drafted ordinance would have to be presented to the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board first before the board of aldermen, which would likely consider the issue during its March 12 meeting.

Calls to Nauti Times Boat Rentals were not returned by press time.

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