A proposal to operate a bonfire business at Lewes Beach 1 and Beach 2 received a positive recommendation from the city’s parks and recreation commission July 19, but not without a lengthy discussion about the future vision for the city’s two guarded beaches.
The commission voted 6-4 to recommend that mayor and city council allow a business called No Shoes Beach Bonfires to operate on a provisional basis at Beach 1 and Beach 2 only.
Local resident Cassidy Gallo is proposing to provide the service that would facilitate bonfire permits with city staff, set up and break down the bonfire, and remove bonfire debris and any leftover trash.
After meeting with city officials last month, she revised her initial proposal to only include Beach 1 and 2, where guests would have access to a bathroom and disturbance to area residents would be minimal.
“It’s really something I want to keep intimate,” she said. “I’m not looking to create a frat party on the beach. That’s what Dewey Beach is for.”
She envisions providing services for groups of about 12 people. The city currently provides permits for bonfires up to 25 people for $25 and bonfires with more than 25 people for $50. Janet Reeves, the city’s parks and marina administrator, said the city has already issued 210 permits this year.
“I think it got popular last year because it was a way for people to be outside and you could socially distance,” Reeves said.
Kay Carnahan, the commissioner in charge of the guarded beaches, was one of the four to vote against the proposal. She said she’s heard overwhelming sentiment from the public to not allow further commercialization.
“I think it’s pretty clear ... they want the beach to be different from the other beaches in our community, except perhaps the northern beaches, which are peaceful and quiet,” she said. “Do we want to be more like Rehoboth? Or do we want to be more like the northern beaches? This is the turning point. There’s no coming back.”
No Shoes Beach Bonfires wouldn’t be the first business in town to offer bonfires. Quest Adventures is operating a shack on the beach at Roosevelt Inlet offering kayaks, paddleboards, chairs, umbrellas, floating mats and bonfires. Quest owner Matt Carter also operates a shack on Savannah Road near the Beacon Motel, and delivers the same selections, including setting up bonfires throughout Lewes Beach.
Commissioner Mardi Thompson voted against the proposal for the same reason as Carnahan, citing a 2019 public workshop and subsequent survey that found most people did not want more commercial activity on the beach.
“People were largely against it back then,” she said. She was also concerned about the residents who live nearby and how sound will carry over water.
Commissioners Christine Besche and Judi Jeffers also voted against, but only because they wanted the commission to review the existing contracts with Quest and Historic Lewes Farmers Market to provide the group with full awareness of what’s already happening in city parks.
Commissioner Ed Tessein asked if it was truly commercialization if Gallo is not erecting a building or leaving a truck in the parking lot.
“She’s not doing anything I couldn’t already do myself,” he said. “She’s providing a service. She’s making a buck doing it.”
Reeves, who serves as the non-voting chair of the commission, said the concerns expressed to her are that approving this business will open a Pandora’s box.
“One concern is that if the city proceeds, then we will get more and more requests from similar vendors, and the horse is out of the barn,” she said. “Where do you stop in allowing new vendors and businesses coming in?”
Commissioner Rodney Robinson, who along with Tessein, Candace Vessella, Barry Dunkin, Warren Golde and Harry Keyser, voted in favor of the request, said he believes the city could realize benefits from the business, particularly that it would lend supervision to an activity that currently has none.
“I could argue that this is a good thing because ... we will have someone who can manage the situation,” he said. “That’s not opening a door for me; that’s adding another level of control.”
The recommendation will go before mayor and city council for consideration at a future meeting. Agendas are posted at lewes.civicweb.net.