Outdoor Dining Repeal in Surf City Unlikely: Ordinance Under Review

Apr 17, 2018

This year marks the 10-year review of the Surf City master plan, making it the ideal time to revisit a zoning ordinance that currently prohibits outdoor dining for most restaurants, ice cream parlors and other food-related businesses in the borough.

“We’re in the process of reviewing it,” Councilman Pete Hartney, also chairman of the borough’s land use board, said last week. “We’re working on language and adjustments.”

Those adjustments could include relaxing the requirements a business must meet in order for a use variance to be granted. What that looks like hasn’t been decided, but it could mean a change in how many votes are required to approve a land use application. Historically, five members of the board have to approve the application. The board is comprised of nine members with two alternates. There are currently two vacancies on the board. There are no guarantees the full board will hear an application.

That’s what happened last month when the board considered a use variance from the Surf City Hotel. In addition to Hartney, board members James Russell and Fred Peters recused themselves from hearing the application. Russell also serves on the governing board, and Peters’ home is located within 250 feet of the hotel. Their absence from the hearing left only five sitting board members to hear the application.

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 at its monthly meeting last week, 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 only 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.”

Councilman William Hodgson, however, sees it differently.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said of outdoor dining, “but you can’t take the neighbors out of it. It’s important they’re involved.”

He said concerning the Surf City Hotel application, the land use board didn’t have the authority to hear the application because it was an ordinance issue. Ordinances are approved, amended and repealed by the borough council.

Mayor Francis Hodgson said people would be surprised by the number of tent sales that occur, not necessarily in the borough, where businesses are selling items or allowing others to sell items, under their operating license. Rules exist to protect legally operated businesses from practices like that, he said.

“Every case is decided on its own,” Hodgson said, noting he, too, thinks it’s a great idea for food-related businesses to offer an outdoor dining option, but there’s always that one bad apple with the potential to spoil the bunch. “What if we repeal it and a gift shop decides to start offering café selections; then the restaurants complain.”

Another issue, and not just in Surf City, but across the Island, is parking. There simply isn’t enough parking. Although the land use board did not vote on a variance for parking, a discussion about the lack of spaces took up a good portion of the meeting. 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. Its location in a cutout that runs parallel to Long Beach Boulevard has long been considered in the parking equation for the hotel despite other businesses in the area and the municipal building across the street. Those parking spots are also used regularly by summer beachgoers.

“There is overwhelming support from the business community and the taxpayers association,” Malay said. “It’s not always that those two align.”

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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