Looking to promote business and public safety, Rehoboth Beach has allowed restaurants to have outdoor dining in public spaces for the past two summers. Recognizing the popularity of the program and with the public health emergency ending, city officials have begun discussing how to make the dining option permanent.
During a special meeting March 1, Mayor Stan Mills and Commissioner Patrick Gossett presented how they envision the new program working.
The crowds are really going to increase this summer because people are going to want to get out and go to the beach, said Mills optimistically.
As proposed, the rules for dining on public space – basically city sidewalks – would follow many of the rules already in place for patio dining on private property. Currently, a restaurant is allowed to have a total of 750 square feet of outdoor dining. That limit would remain, and restaurants that wanted both patio and public dining would have to decide the ratio of the two that best suits them.
As proposed, restaurants would only be allowed to have two-tops or four-tops outside, and they would only be allowed up against the facade of a building. Businesses would also have to meet certain pedestrian pathway and service aisle requirements.
Commissioner Toni Sharp said she was happy to see the city making it easy to do business in Rehoboth Beach and called the proposal a breath of fresh air. It takes a bad situation and acknowledges how welcoming the program made the city feel, she said.
The proposed dates for outdoor dining would be April 1 to Oct. 15, which met with some resistance.
Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski said he would like to see it be allowed year-round, weather permitting. There are plenty of nice days in March, November and December, he said.
Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol Everhart agreed with him, saying last year, the outdoor dining needed to end before Sea Witch simply because the parade needed the street space. The city had blocked off dozens of parking spaces to allow for pedestrian access in front of restaurants with outdoor dining.
Chrzanowski said he also doesn’t agree with limiting the square footage of private patio dining if a restaurant is seeking public space dining.
Resident Cindy Lovett said she would like to see parklets remain on Baltimore and Wilmington avenues, because it brought those streets to life.
A question remaining for commissioners to decide is how the city would approve a restaurant’s request for dining in public space. There were a couple options offered – a special permit of compliance hearing, or administratively after certain requirements were met.
Another question is if the city should use this year as a trial run under these regulations before codifying them.
Chrzanowski said the past two summers have been a trial run, with few complaints, and the city should move forward on the changes as soon as possible.
Commissioners are scheduled to resume this discussion during their regular workshop set for 9 a.m., Monday, March 7. Both Mills’ and Gossett’s presentations are available for review on the city’s legislative portal at cityofrehoboth.civicweb.net/Portal.