Dewey Beach commissioners voted unanimously May 22 to temporarily allow businesses to expand their outdoor seating areas with town manager approval, expediting an otherwise lengthy process that requires public hearings.
Town Counsel Fred Townsend said the governor’s May 22 declaration allowing the expansion of outdoor seating enables the approval to move from a legislative act to an administrative act, meaning at the discretion of the town manager. Townsend said it would not make sense to grant approvals in accordance with a typical zoning application process.
“Your agendas would be quickly filled up with these applications, and by the time you waded through them, with a lot of luck, the state of emergency rules would have been relaxed,” Townsend said. “It’s not going to help the public if it takes 60, 90, 120 days to get the relief that the restaurants are seeking through a legislative process.”
Town Manager Scott Koenig said he received one request to grant a temporary expansion of premises, and he expects to receive more. He said the timeframe for temporary expansion of premises is from Monday, June 1, through Thursday, July 30, unless shortened or extended by the governor.
Restaurants must continue to conform with noise and safety requirements, and maintain wheelchair-accessible pathways or sidewalks, Koenig said, which may not be feasible for all restaurants.
“There is not enough time to go through the public notice and hearing process if we're really trying to address the flexibility the restaurants are asking for,” Koenig said.
Commissioner Paul Bauer said temporary expansions will allow for more social distancing and help businesses make up for lost revenue.
“Our businesses are hurting, so anything we can do, we need to do quickly. This is the time we can step up and help our businesses out,” he said.
Other commissioners agreed, specifying outdoor seating should be on restaurant property, close by 11 p.m., and that outside music would not be permitted. Restaurants cannot add more patron space than what was originally granted by the state fire marshal, and expansions could be revocable upon discretion of the town.