After months of discussion, Rehoboth Beach commissioners have landed on 1,000 square feet as the figure to which outdoor dining patios on private property could possibly be expanded. Currently, city code allows restaurants to have 750 square feet of outdoor dining space.
Earlier this year, commissioners approved an outdoor dining program for public space, which basically means sidewalks, but deferred action on outdoor dining for private property. Instead, the commissioners extended COVID-related outdoor dining allowances on private property through Nov. 1 to give themselves time to discuss possible changes.
During a meeting July 15, Commissioners Jay Lagree, Edward Chrzanowski and Tim Bennett all said they wanted to give restaurants as much space as possible – Lagree suggested 1,250 square feet, while Bennett said an unlimited amount.
Everybody wants to sit outside, said Lagree.
Chrzanowski said commissioners need to do what residents, restaurant owners and customers want, which is to expand outdoor dining options.
Mayor Stan Mills continued to say he wants to expand outdoor dining options within reason. He said he was willing to expand to 900 square feet, but not any further. There hasn’t been a widespread call for an expansion by restaurant owners, he said.
Not every restaurant can have outdoor dining or be able to expand, said Mills.
Commissioner Toni Sharp said she is still wrestling with why the code needed to be changed, when restaurant owners already have the city’s board of adjustment as an avenue to try to increase their outdoor dining space if desired. She said she liked that option because it involves public notices to neighbors who might not otherwise know about the proposed change.
Sharp said she would still like to have a better explanation for where 750 square feet came from and rationalization for expanding. Four years from now, people might wonder why the option was expanded when the city couldn’t defend 750 square feet to begin with, she said.
For a number of reasons, even if outdoor dining space is expanded, the majority of restaurants within the city will likely not be able to take advantage. The reasons cited during the meeting include restaurants not having the staff to accommodate additional customers, restaurants not having any more space to expand or restaurants not being able to make costly improvements to meet the safety requirements needed with more customers.
Ultimately, Mills and Sharp said they were on board with the expansion to 1,000 square feet of outdoor dining space so there could be a substantive discussion during the August workshop.
In addition to possibly expanding the square footage for outdoor dining space, commissioners continued to discuss a possible code change that would allow a restaurant to use a portion of a neighboring lot that’s under different ownership than the lot where the restaurant is located.
Currently, city code does not allow a restaurant to use neighboring outdoor space if it does not own it.
Mills presented commissioners with a draft code change that said the restaurant owner and the owners of the neighboring property would have to provide an affidavit saying permission has been granted to put a dining patio on the property.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett asked City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas if a copy of a lease should also be required. Mandalas said the affidavit is the owner saying the proposal is agreed to, and the city didn’t want to become involved with a private business relationship.
Commissioners are expected to resume discussing outdoor dining on public space during the workshop Monday, Aug. 8.
Dance floor for Freddie’s approved
Prior to the discussion on outdoor dining, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of allowing Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant to modify its floor plan to include a dance floor.
The restaurant is located on the west side of South First Street, in the space that was The Pond for decades. During a permit of compliance hearing, owner Freddie Lutz said he doesn’t have a lot of neighbors to worry about. He said there’s a wall directly across the street at First Street Station and there’s a hotel kind of close, but it’s behind the restaurant.
Before a vote was taken, Mills said if the dance floor was approved, the configuration would be fixed and Lutz wouldn’t be able to add tables later.
It’s clearly understood, said Lutz.
Editor’s note: The headline in this story has been updated with the correct percentage increase.