Could restaurants in downtown Lewes soon be allowed to offer dining above the first floor?
Lewes Mayor and City Council will look into whether that is something it would like to pursue, directing city staff at its Jan. 10 meeting to research why past officials prohibited second-floor dining in certain zoning districts.
Currently, dining above the ground level is permitted in the marine-commerical zone, where restaurants such as Irish Eyes and The Wheelhouse are located; however, it is prohibited in the town center zone, which encompasses Second Street, Front Street and portions of Savannah Road, Market Street and Third Street.
In 2017, mayor and city council amended code to allow properties within the general commercial district to offer second-floor dining via a conditional use if the property meets certain criteria.
“I think we just want to give our merchants and business owners an opportunity to remain competitive in this environment,” said Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams, who noted restaurants are dealing with new conditions related to COVID-19 as well as the competition from restaurants moving out to Route 1.
“This is not coming from one particular restaurant owner,” he said. “[Councilwoman] Carolyn [Jones] and I have spoken to several who have indicated they’d like to be able to expand their businesses and explore other opportunities.”
Mayor Ted Becker said the prohibition on above-ground-level dining in the town center was put in place about 10 years ago. In a 2017 Cape Gazette article, former building official Henry Baynum said it was instituted in 2011, but no other information was included about why it happened.
“I think it would be worth looking at how that decision was arrived at,” Becker said. “I’m not saying it should or shouldn’t happen, but it is something that warrants consideration.”
Becker said there are many properties in downtown Lewes that have two, three or four apartments in second-floor spaces, including a hotel.
“How would allowing dining and entertainment on the second and third floors affect those other uses of the properties?” he asked rhetorically.
Councilman Khalil Saliba said he was surprised to learn restaurants weren’t allowed to offer dining above ground level in the town center zone.
“I think Andrew makes a very good point when talking about the needs for our businesses to be competitive, particularly in the current environment,” he said. “I think it’s worth exploring and see where it takes us.”
Council voted unanimously to direct staff to research the issue and report back. If council chooses to amend code, the issue will either be referred to the planning commission for discussion or considered solely by mayor and city council. In either case, a public hearing will be held prior to a vote.