Facing a June 1 expiration date of COVID-related policies for outdoor dining rules on private property, Rehoboth Beach commissioners voted unanimously in favor of extending those policies through Nov. 1.
During a May 20 meeting, Mayor Stan Mills began the discussion by laying out the options before commissioners – do nothing and let the policies expire; go through the code change process without an extension, but that would require a public hearing; requiring restaurants to go to the board of adjustment. The last two options would take months, said Mills.
Mills said he was in favor of extending the policy to give the city adequate time to look at the code without harming businesses. However, he also wanted to include the code-mandated maximum of 750 square feet of outdoor dining space because, he said, to not include that limitation would be a big change.
Ultimately, the size limitation was not included in the motion made by Commissioner Edward Chrznowski, who has said repeatedly he doesn’t agree with the square-footage limitation.
The extension of special outdoor dining regulations also applies to restaurants that did not participate in the program over the past two summers. That allows new restaurants to participate, said Commissioner Tim Bennett.
Commissioners discussed the extension of the rules during a previous workshop. One of the questions brought up at the time was related to whether the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner would allow restaurants to do the city-approved policies now that the pandemic is generally considered over.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the ABC commissioner will allow what local jurisdictions approved.
After the vote, Mills reminded everyone the relaxation of restrictions is limited to size and location of outdoor dining only. The size portion is the already-mentioned 750 square feet, while the location portion is related to allowing outdoor dining on a neighboring property even if the two lots are not owned by the same entity, which is a requirement under city code.
Immediately prior to the extension of the rules, city commissioners also voted in favor of examining city code related to outdoor dining on private property. There was a consensus that changes should be made, but the extension provides commissioners the opportunity to figure out those changes.
In March, commissioners approved an administrative approval process for dining on public space. The application fee is $150, which covers the city’s review of the application and site. If approved, the permit fee is $163 for restaurants that do not serve alcohol and $325 for those that do.
Most of dune crossings repaired
During his report at the beginning of the meeting, Interim City Manager Evan Miller said the city’s beach is beginning to recover from damage caused by the Mother’s Day nor’easter. The entire stretch of the beach is open, but the beach is wider than normal at low tide and narrower than normal at high tide, he said.
Additionally, five of the 38 dune crossings remain closed for safety reasons, said Miller. All of those crossings are at the north end and there is dune fencing across those entrances, he said.
Rehoboth is hoping the state will be able to help with repairing the remaining damaged dunes before Memorial Day, said Miller.
Bike sharrows painted on city streets
Miller said nearly 150 bike sharrows have been painted on Rehoboth Avenue, Henlopen Avenue, Bayard Avenue and State Road. The sharrows are reminders to motorists that they must share the road with bicyclists, he said.
The installation of these sharrows – arrow-shaped markings used to designate street areas where vehicles and bikes share space – came to the city as a recommended action item from the streets and transportation committee over a year ago.
Hotel occupancy rates increasing, jobs still available
As an indication of the number of visitors coming to the area, the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce tracks midweek and weekend hotel occupancy rates. During the recent commissioner meeting, Executive Director Carol Everhart said rates are up over last year.
For midweek, from January through May 9, the number of overnight stays last year was 25,131, while this year it’s 29,953, said Everhart. For the weekends, over the same time period, the number of overnight stays was 35,684 last year, while this year the number is 43,037.
“And I can tell you by making the calls to the accommodations, pre-bookings are up,” said Everhart. “So right now, it looks like we’re going to have a repeat of last summer.”
It also appears there’s going to be a repeat of last summer in another way – lots of job openings. The chamber hosted a job fair about a month ago. Everhart said 28 businesses participated this year and there were 42 applicants who came looking for jobs.
“Those 28 businesses had over 1,000 positions available,” said Everhart. “To me, that said it all.”