After a months-long process of public hearings, meetings, recommendations and votes, certain Dewey Beach restaurants no longer need to provide off-street parking spaces.
Commissioners voted Jan. 21 to abolish the requirement for restaurants in the RB-2 district with under 4,000 square feet of patron space to provide off-street parking.
“That ordinance passes unanimously,” Mayor Bill Stevens said. “Long time coming.”
The ordinance also states that restaurants in the RB-2 district with more than 4,000 square feet of patron space must provide one space for each 200 square feet assigned for patron use, including open decking.
During public comment, attorney Stephen Spence said he was asked by his clients Grotto Pizza and Highway One to speak in favor of the new ordinance. In a previous meeting, Spence said many customers use parking lots at his clients’ restaurants just to park and go to the beach.
Commissioner Paul Bauer asked whether the change in requirement would affect any other businesses in the district. Stevens said only three restaurants in town have more than 4,000 square feet of patron space, but none are in the RB-2 district.
Bauer said he would prefer that people pay to park or use a ride-share.
“Requiring parking for a business owner is not a great use of their space,” Bauer said.
Stevens noted that Delaware House Bill 290 was recently passed; it allows restaurants to continue to use expanded outdoor seating provided certain conditions are met. Several Dewey restaurants have expanded outdoor seating areas into their off-street parking spaces.
Commissioner David Jasinski said the town has had a lot of meetings and public input, and his sense is that the public is ready for a change.
The genesis of the code amendment came in July, when restaurateur Steve “Monty” Montgomery first introduced plans for Starboard Claw, a new eatery to be located at the site of the former Hammerhead’s restaurant on Coastal Highway.
To expand the restaurant kitchen, Montgomery and co-owners purchased an adjacent property at 26 Bellevue St. and had to go through the rezoning process to change the property designation from residential to business. The two properties were subsequently consolidated.
In October, commissioners voted unanimously to refer to the planning and zoning commission a proposed expansion of an existing conditional use for the restaurant.
At the time, code required restaurants with more than 2,000 square feet of patron space to provide one parking space for every 200 square feet of such area. Under this requirement, Starboard Claw, with a proposed patron area of 3,694 square feet, would need to provide 19 off-street parking spaces.
In November, the planning and zoning commission approved sending a set of recommended conditions for the new restaurant to town council, and in December, planners sent commissioners their recommendation to eliminate off-street parking requirements for restaurants with less than 4,000 square feet of patron space.
Montgomery said Jan. 25 he would like to send final construction plans to the town by the end of the week in hopes of a quick approval, so a permit from the county could then be acquired.
“My understanding is the county permit takes a while, but we’ll be ready to start demo/construction the very next day from when the county approves our plans,” Montgomery said. “We’ve already gotten the green light from public health and the fire marshal, so we are moving along. Once we start construction, we’ll know a better time table, [but] at this point my best guess is we’ll be finished and open this coming fall.”