Rehoboth should prioritize outdoor dining on private property

March 25, 2022

For the past two summers, through a number of initiatives, Rehoboth Beach officials bent over backwards to accommodate restaurants who were looking to provide outdoor dining options to cautious customers.

From the Boardwalk to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, restaurants took the city up on its offer, installing tables on city sidewalks or in empty parking lots and driveways immediately adjacent to their businesses. The program was generally considered a success, and in advance of emergency regulations sunsetting at month's end, Rehoboth Beach officials, again to their credit, recently approved a policy setting rules for outdoor dining on public space.

The problem is outdoor dining on private property was not addressed, leaving a number of restaurant owners questioning why as warmer weather fast approaches. Mayor Stan Mills recognizes a discussion on outdoor dining on private property is needed, but has scheduled no special meetings to address the issue. As of now, the first time it’s scheduled to be discussed is during the commissioner workshop in April, which means even if rules are created it’s going to be months before restaurants get final approval.

This didn’t have to be the case. There was time to discuss this issue over the past few months. For example, instead of conducting a number of hours-long special meetings on the tree code, city officials could have been working on outdoor dining regulations. 

The city’s tree code could have waited a couple more months. It’s cumbersome and in need of revision, but it’s generally working. The city has been recognized again as a Tree City USA by The Arbor Day Foundation and, according to City Arborist Liz Lingo, since 2016 the city has planted more than three trees for every one that’s been cut down on public lands. Trees on private property aren’t fairing nearly as well, but they’re the collateral damage of property owners wanting to maximize lot coverage for a new house. 

Another example of "found time" could have been to hold special meetings in place of the budget meetings that were scheduled in March, but then canceled because commissioners were done discussing next year’s proposed budget.

Outdoor dining rules for private property aren’t going to be as easy to create as the ones for public property and, even with rules in place, not every restaurant will be able to participate. And that’s fine, but it’s an easier pill for businesses to swallow when they feel like city officials have exhausted all their options. 

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter