Rehoboth Beach commissioners are expected to approve a policy allowing for outdoor dining on public space during their regular monthly meeting Friday, March 18.
Focusing on three specific areas – seasonality, square-footage limitations and fees – city officials finalized the policy details during a special meeting March 15. It was the fourth time they had discussed the policy over the past couple of months.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett has been doing a lot of the work crafting the policy. He came to the special meeting having addressed a number of concerns brought up by Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski during a previous meeting.
The policy had proposed to limit the outdoor dining allowance from April 1 to mid-October. Now, the program will have no seasonal limitations. Instead, it gives the city manager the discretion to require tables and chairs be moved in case of a special event or weather emergency.
City code currently allows for a restaurant to have 750 square feet of patio dining. The policy had proposed to include the public space dining as part of the patio square footage limit, but it no longer does.
Finally, an application fee of $500 had been proposed, but that fee would now be $150. If the application is approved, there would be an additional annual fee of $163 for restaurants not serving alcohol and $325 for restaurants that are serving alcohol.
Even though this policy will go into effect with its passage at the upcoming meeting, Mayor Stan Mills reminded business owners there will be a lag in permit processing as the city evaluates the merits of each application. After that, he said, the alcoholic beverage control commissioner will need to approve an expansion-of-premises application for the restaurants seeking to serve alcohol. Mills estimated approvals could take until the end of April or the beginning of May.
Some of the policy’s proposals remain unchanged. Restaurants would only be allowed to have two-tops or four-tops outside, and the tables could only be placed up against the facade of a building. Businesses would also have to meet certain pedestrian pathway and service aisle requirements.
Due to narrow sidewalks and the required buffers around the outdoor dining areas, the passage of this policy doesn’t appear to help the restaurants on Baltimore and Wilmington avenues.
It just won’t be able to happen on those streets, said resident Cindy Lovett, addressing the commissioners. There was a great vibe on those streets the last couple of years, and commissioners should figure something out for those restaurants, she said.
The passage of this policy also doesn’t address outdoor dining on private property. A number of restaurants in Rehoboth Beach converted non-patio space located adjacent to their business into outdoor dining during the past couple of seasons. Those areas will no longer be usable with the expiration of the emergency outdoor dining rules at the end of the month.
Commissioners are aware of this problem. Mills said the city will begin to address this issue at the commissioner workshop in April.
Mills also said commissioners will evaluate the program at the end of the season and possibly codify any necessary changes.
First in-person, maskless meeting since March 2020
The special meeting March 15 was the first in-person, masks-not-required commissioner meeting since a budget workshop was held March 9, 2020. City meetings opened to in-person attendance for a brief period last year, but masks and social distancing were required.
The recent special meeting also marked the first time Commissioners Tim Bennett and Toni Sharp were part of a meeting in the commissioners room of city hall since being elected in August.