Surf City Officials Mull Outdoor Dining Compromise

Nov 21, 2018

In a year that saw one outdoor dining application rejected and an open-air dining concept approved, officials are in discussion to bring the much-debated feature of outdoor dining to Surf City borough in 2019 – with some slightly non-traditional conditions.

Mayor Francis Hodgson last week said discussions surrounding outdoor dining include the requirement that restaurant and food-related businesses apply annually for a permit. The cost for the permit, he said, would roughly $50. In case of negative issues, including neighbors’ complaints, a permit might not be issued in the following year and could be pulled that same season, according to Hodgson.

The mayor’s comments came at this month’s council meeting and were in response to Vincent DeSalvio, owner of the Sandbox Café, who said he and his wife were hearing rumors that outdoor dining might be allowed.

Under the current ordinance, seating in combination with tables located outside the confines of the interior walls of any business, including takeout, in the business district is expressly prohibited. The prohibition includes, but isn’t limited to, a covered patio, a tent-type structure or an area covered by an awning, according to the ordinance.

Dan Malay, president of the Surf City Business Cooperative, said organization members are eager for updates on the outdoor dining topic, which has been a hot-button issue for more than a decade for business owners, residents and visitors.

“We’re not asking for a change in the application process,” Malay told the council earlier this year, noting the business cooperative would like the ban to be lifted for establishments that do not currently meet all seating and serving capacity.

He used his business, How You Brewin?, located on the Boulevard, as an example. It was approved to seat 40 patrons. The interior design uses only 32 seats. He’s looking for the ability to place the remaining eight seats outdoors. “For those businesses that are at max, they should go before the land use board.”

The most recent push to bring outdoor dining to the borough came earlier this year when Greg and Colleen Gewirtz, who purchased the Surf City Hotel in April 2017, sought permission to build a two-tiered outdoor dining deck for approximately 60 seats. The deck was set to be accessible from the street on the Eighth Street side of the structure and from the Beach Club. The tiers were designed to be separated by a few steps, making it accessible from the inside since there is already a tiered dining room. Plans also included a counter to accommodate diners, but that would not serve alcohol.

The board rejected the application. In denying the request, the board said the application did not satisfy the requirements for a use variance and, by extension, variance for other items, including parking. The hotel is required to have more than 150 parking spaces on site to accommodate guests, diners, employees and liquor store customers. It has 18.

Parking was also part of the discussion of an application by the owners of Wally’s Restaurant, located in the same cutout as the Surf City Hotel, to expand with a second, open-air concept building attached to the existing structure through the kitchen. In that case, the land use board approved the application, saying it was a permitted use and noting parking was an issue in the borough.

It’s such an issue that the land use board is taking another look at zoning ordinances as part of the 10-year review of the borough’s master plan, and is looking at ways to reduce the parking burden as one of the requirements a business must meet in order for a use variance to be granted.

— Gina G. Scala

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