Rehoboth mayor concedes new outdoor dining policy isn’t fair

Few of city’s restaurants have enough sidewalk space to participate in new program
March 22, 2022

Recognizing the policy isn’t going to be applicable to a majority of the city’s restaurants due to the width of self-imposed pedestrian access routes and the city’s narrow sidewalks, Rehoboth Beach commissioners approved rules regulating outdoor dining on public space during a meeting March 18.

In anticipation of the state’s COVID-related outdoor dining rules expiring at the end of the month, commissioners have been working on the policy since February. The group came into the March 18 commissioner meeting having ironed out the details.

Prior to their vote, two Wilmington Avenue restaurant owners – Shorebreak Lodge co-owner Kate Wall and Mariachi owner Yolanda Pineda – asked commissioners to think of a solution that would allow more restaurants the ability to be able to participate in the new program.

The restaurants on the south side of Wilmington Avenue won’t be able to take advantage of the outdoor revenue, said Wall. Rehoboth Avenue businesses are the only businesses who are going to be able to participate, she said.

Pineda said she appreciated the hard work done by commissioners, but also said she just wants the same opportunity as everyone else.

Mayor Stan Mills’ response to Wall and Pineda was to say the program just isn’t going to be fair. The only way to make it fair for everyone would be to cancel it altogether and not have outdoor dining at all, he said.

Mills said it’s not just Wilmington Avenue. The sidewalks on the second block of Baltimore Avenue are only 5 feet wide, which doesn’t leave any space for tables, he said, adding that widening of the sidewalks on those streets is something that could be addressed during future discussions of the Baltimore and Wilmington avenue streetscape improvement project.

Commissioners couldn’t accommodate all restaurants, but they did give the restaurants who currently have outdoor dining on public space the opportunity to continue to use that space without a permit until June 1. This was done to allow for permit processing at the city and state level. Mills encouraged all restaurants who are thinking about participating to submit their applications as soon as possible.

Commissioners are expected to begin discussing outdoor dining on private property during their workshop in April.

Outdoor dining policy specifics

Rehoboth’s new policy establishes a minimum pedestrian access route of 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 policy allows for two-top and four-top tables placed only along the façade of restaurants that meet the city’s minimum PAR standards and other requirements.

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. Restaurants that serve alcohol also must obtain approval from the state Office of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner.

The permit allows for year-round dining, but does give the city manager discretion – for special events or weather emergencies – to tell restaurants they cannot use their outdoor dining for a specific period of time.

City code currently allows for a restaurant to have 750 square feet of patio dining. Originally, public space dining was going to count as part of the patio square footage limit, but as approved it does not.

Restaurants with city-approved outdoor dining on public property spaces must erect a continuous separation barrier that is at least 42 inches high, self-supporting and without attachments to the sidewalk. The policy does not allow for use of the full depth of the sidewalk, split dining areas, parklets or in-street dining areas, nor dining on the Boardwalk.

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