Rehoboth can’t reach consensus on patio changes

by Michael Short on October 16, 2010

By Michael Short

Rehoboth Beach wasn’t able to reach consensus during the Friday, Oct. 15 commissioner’s meeting on how to change the city’s patio regulations. But the city is expected to keep the issue on the front burner.

“I would expect this to be on every agenda until it gets done,” said Mayor Sam Cooper.

There seemed to be consensus to change the code so that restaurant patio violations would be considered a civil and not criminal matter. That came to a head when the city began enforcing the patio ordinance after Labor Day, resulting in the actual arrests of a few restaurant owners and managers.

That action has been seen as heavy-handed by some and the commissioners were quick to say that patio violations shouldn’t be considered a criminal matter. The patio regulations say food and alcohol cannot be served after 10 p.m. and patrons should clear the patio by 11 p.m.

But the commissioners bogged down on how quickly they should move and whether they should change the patio ordinance before they change the noise ordinance.

In the end, no changes were made, prompting Susan Wood of the Cultured Pearl to ask what about this weekend and Jazz Festival, a weekend when the city is crowded with visitors and restaurants are at capacity.

“Go out and have a good time,” said Cooper, implying the city would use a light-handed approach. “Don’t make too much of a ruckus.”

Commissioners Bill Sargent and Stan Mills said that both the noise and patio ordinances should be considered together as a package deal. “Our problem is not patios. It is noise . . . It all needs to be done at the same time as a package deal,” according to Sargent.

While most have agreed that the main issue is noise, Mills also said he was concerned about rowdy behavior. “It is not just noise for me personally,” he said. “I have said before that I don’t want to be a rowdy party town.”

Commissioner Dennis Barbour had originally said that Mills should recuse himself from the discussion, saying certain officials had acted “improperly”  in regard to the patio ordinance enforcement.

But others said the issue should be what happens from now on. “The agenda item is not how we got here or on any one individual,” Sargent said. “Let’s move on.”

Commissioner Lorraine Zellers also said the city should not rush to make changes. City Manager Greg Ferrese has been instructed not to strictly enforce the patio ordinance, but that didn’t seem to molify some in the crowd, who wanted action now.

“Do it. Make a plan of action and do it,” urged resident Nancy Meadows.

“Either enforce it or repeal it,” said Guy Abernathy.

Zellers said the city should take some time and get the process right, instead of making changes in haste.

That prompted Commissioner Kathy McGuiness to say “we had no second thoughts about running in there and arresting people.”
McGuiness wanted to move immediately to make patio violations a civil and not criminal matter. Commissioner Pat Coluzzi also wanted to move quickly, saying “I want to make sure they (business owners) know this is something we are going to pursue now.”

Commissioner Dennis Barbour drafted proposed changes to the patio ordinance and he also wanted to move fast, prompting some concern from Cooper.

“We’ve had this less than 24 hours and you want to vote on it,” he told Barbour.

Town Attorney Glenn Mandalas said that making the change would be considered a zoning change, which would require a public hearing with 15-days of public notice before action could be taken, he said.

Barbour and Coluzzi have met with business owners in a meeting spearheaded by Rehoboth Beach Main Street. Both Main Street and the Chamber of Commerce have been involved in trying to hammer out changes to a patio ordinance.

A letter from Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce President Carol Everhart urged that any violations be considered a civil and not criminal matter. The letter also suggested standardizing the closing time for all restaurants to 1 a.m. “This amendment levels the competitive playing field, clears the patios by 1 a.m., automatically regulates and eliminated the issue of patrons stepping outside on the patio to smoke past outside serving time and eliminates confusion with enforcement.”

The confusion over enforcement was a reference to some restaurants being grandfathered in and having later closing times for patios because they were in operation before the nearly 20 year old ordinance passed.

Barbour’s proposed revisons eliminated the current patio time limits and said food service “must be available to patrons on the patio during normal business hours.”

During the discussion, Barbour noted that he had previously been charged for violating the city’s noisy dog ordinance. Because it was considered a criminal penalty, he said he was fingerprinted, photographed and arrested just because his dog was too noisy.

Although he had the instance expunged from his record, he told the audience “I was interviewing for jobs at a high level. . . If this had come up, I could have lost a job.”

One restaurant owner said that his manager is from Canada. Being arrested for a patio ordinance violation means “she would be deported,” he said.

Others criticized the 10 p.m. ending of service on the patios as too early for adults. Wood said that she had had to tell patrons enjoying her deck that they had to move inside, even though it was a beautiful night to sit outside. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to move in . . .,” she said. “It is really complicated and I apologize. These people were laughing. And they weren’t laughing at me. They were laughing at you because you wrote this ridiculous law.”

A motion to draft a resolution addressing  just the change from a criminal to civil penalty failed by a 4-3 vote.

But some said the discussion and meetings may be an opportunity to bring the city closer together.

Drexel Davison of Rehoboth Beach Main Street and Bad Hair Day? said the discussion made him believe “that something good will come of this.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

[CoastalSussex] on Twitter[Coastal Sussex] on Facebook[Our] RSS Feed[Our] Email