Rehoboth Looks At Patio Compromise

by Michael Short on October 7, 2010

By Michael Short

Restaurant owners, business people and town commissioners appear to have hammered out some consensus on how to address the city’s controversial patio ordinance.

The ordinance limits the hours that restaurant patrons can be served and can stay on patios in downtown restaurants. City officials started to enforce the ordinance much more vigorously after Labor Day, prompting outcries from some business owners.

There was concern that the city’s policy was heavy handed and a standing room only crowd gathered at the Rehoboth Beach Commissioner’s Workshop meeting on Monday to discuss the ordinance.

A second meeting of business people, some commissioners and members of the public was spearheaded by Rehoboth Beach Main Street. That meeting took place on Thursday morning, Oct. 7.

Both Commissioner Dennis Barbour and Chamber of Commerce President Carol Everhart said that there appeared to be some consensus about changes to the patio ordinance which are expected to be brought before the Rehoboth Beach Commissioners at the Friday, Oct. 15 meeting.

Barbour said public hearings would have to be held after the Oct. 15 meeting before any changes are adopted.

The current ordinance allows food and alcohol service until 10 p.m. and requires patrons leave patios by 11 p.m. Everhart said one of the two things agreed upon was to make the penalties for violations a civil and not criminal penalty.

The other would be to extend the hours, although she didn’t give a specific time that was discussed.

The city’s increased enforcement came about because of noise complaints. There seemed to be consensus at Monday’s workshop that only a few businesses routinely violate the city law and that most try hard to be very good neighbors.

Part of the problem was that some restaurants don’t have to abide by the time limits because they are grandfathered. Those restaurants can allow longer hours, leading to confusion because of the different required closing times.

Everhart said people wanted to make the service and closing time requirements more consistent with the grandfathered time limits.  Barbour declined to give specifics of what the proposed changes will be, but he said there was consensus on Thursday.

There was also a discussion of the town’s noise ordinance. Both Everhart and Barbour said the consensus was that more needed to be done to work out a workable noise ordinance.

Everhart said that Barbour and Commissioner Pat Coluzzi will research what other towns do and the Chamber and Main Street will accept suggestions of what path the city should follow.

Barbour said Rehoboth Beach would need better technology to measure noise levels and then the city has to decide “what is too loud.”

He said he hopes the city can move quickly on any changes so the business community isn’t “left hanging. . . We want to expedite this.”

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