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Rehoboth studying outdoor dining options on private property

Code amendment would likely be needed; and waiting to see if state would approve
May 13, 2022

With a June 1 expiration date of outdoor dining rules on private property nearing, it appears Rehoboth Beach commissioners are interested in amending code to facilitate restaurant owners who would like to continue with that service option.

In March, commissioners approved an administrative approval process for dining on public space. The policy allows restaurants to have two-top and four-top tables placed only along the façade of restaurants if they meet the minimum width requirements for a pedestrian access route – 7 feet on most downtown Rehoboth Beach sidewalks; however, the minimum is 8 feet in the second block of Rehoboth Avenue and 10 feet in the first block.

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. 

During a commissioners workshop May 9, Mayor Stan Mills said he had an appetite to allow for outdoor dining on private property, so long as the city sets up parameters – primarily not allowing a restaurant to exceed the code-allowed 750 square feet of outdoor dining space.

There are a number of restaurants in town with vacant lots next to them. However, said Mills, city code only allows a restaurant to provide outdoor dining on a neighboring vacant lot if the restaurant and the vacant lot are under the same ownership.

City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas laid out three available options for commissioners – an amendment to the zoning code; allow the restaurant owner and property owner to submit a joint variance application to the board of adjustment; or doing something similar to the public space and simply creating an administrative approval process.

Mills said the first two options would still take months for restaurant owners to get the approval they seek because of notification and public hearing requirements. With all the options, the restaurant owner would still need to go through the city’s application process outlined in the public dining option.

Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski and Commissioner Jay Lagree questioned the need for the 750 square foot limitation.

Mills said it was his personal preference. At some point, he said, a restaurant adding more seats triggers more inspection requirements from the state.

Egg owner Missi Postles asked the commissioners to consider the number of tables, not the square footage threshold, because she would like to continue to spread out her tables on the neighboring parking lot, but not add seats. The kitchen couldn’t handle more tables, she said.

In the end, commissioners appeared to reach a consensus to do a hybrid of options one and three – to extend the suspended rules through the summer and to figure out how best to amend the code.

Commissioners are expected to take action during their Friday, May 20 meeting. In the meantime, city staff will confirm with the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commissioner that restaurants will be given permission to operate outdoor dining on a neighboring lot under different ownership if the city continues the suspended rules beyond June 1.

Ultimately, the city can say they want to do this, but it’s ABCC who is the ultimate decision maker, said Mills.

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