Ferry seeks variance for outside entertainment

Neighboring residents against amplified music
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is seeking a variance to its liquor license in order to offer live, amplified music on its boardwalk at the On The Rocks restaurant. BY NICK ROTH
March 24, 2014

Residents from neighboring communities are protesting an application by the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to offer live outdoor entertainment at its On The Rocks restaurant.

Ferry officials say they've provided live music for nearly a decade on the boardwalk area of the Lewes terminal. They are now seeking a variance to their liquor license because they were previously unaware the entertainment was in violation of Alcohol Beverage Commission regulations.

“We're not looking to do anything substantially than what we had in place prior to last year,” said Jim Walls, chief operating officer for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, the organization that operates the ferry. “We're not trying to have any KISS concerts or Metallica concerts or big band events.”

A protest hearing regarding the ferry's variance application will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 3, in County Council Chambers at 2 The Circle in Georgetown.

Barbara Brownridge Walsh, president of the Port Lewes Council, said the music has always been noticeable, but last summer was significantly worse.

“We have a pier, and people go out there to watch the sun go down,” she said. “You don't want to hear someone caterwauling while you're basking in the sunset.”

Brownridge Walsh was among several residents who attended a meeting March 13 at the Virden Center, where ferry officials tried to ease the concerns of neighbors.

Heath Gehrke, director of ferry operations, said live music has been present at the terminal since he was hired nine years ago. Entertainment is usually offered Monday through Friday from 5 to 8:45 p.m., or about an hour after the last ferry departs. Bands typically consist of two or three members, he said.

Gehrke said the live music setup was changed last summer, and he suspects that caused the disturbance to neighbors. The first and only noise complaint was lodged against the ferry last August. That was when ferry officials learned the liquor license did not allow outdoor amplified music, Walls said. All ferry officials are trying to do, he said, is continue offering the same amenity as years past.

“I don't think we're trying to create a Dewey Beach-type atmosphere,” he said. “What we're trying to do is create a very pleasant atmosphere at the terminal for families and travelers to come and for people in the local area to go. We think it adds to the experience for most of the people who come to our terminals.”

If the variance is approved, Walls said, the ferry would invest in sound monitoring equipment and reposition speakers to minimize the impact to neighboring communities. An open dialogue with residents would continue too, he said.

Many residents in attendance at the March 13 meeting were concerned ferry officials would agree to specific terms, but change their approach in the future when personnel turns over.

Jay Becker, the ferry's attorney, said specifics such as speaker orientation as well as hours and days of operation could be included in the variance.

Brownridge Walsh and other Port Lewes residents are lobbying for no outside music whatsoever.

“The serenity and the peacefulness is very important to us,” she said. “You have the water lapping, the ferry going in and out and you really have a glorious environment. And [loud music] takes that away.”

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