Surf City Hotel Owners Mull Outdoor Dining Ban Appeal

Apr 11, 2018

Barring a repeal of zoning ordinance 03-17 by the governing body prior to the summer season, commercial outdoor dining, with the exception of a few businesses, will remain prohibited in Surf City, making it the only community on Long Beach Island that expressly bars restaurants and other food-related businesses from offering consumers a chance to eat outdoors.

What’s most disappointing about that, according to the owners of the Surf City Hotel, which recently went before the Land Use Board seeking a use variance to allow them to build a 60-seat outdoor dining deck off the restaurant and Beach Club, is the disconnect between the community and the board.

“Everyone there (at the meeting) was so encouraging,” Greg Gewirtz, who, along with his wife, Colleen, purchased the hotel last April, said earlier this week. “We’ve both received texts, emails and phone calls from people disappointed with the outcome. It would have been awesome for the town.”

Under the ordinance, seats 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 awing, according to the ordinance.

“The residents wanted it,” Colleen said, adding she’s received numerous requests from people who want them to move forward, maybe start a petition to prompt a change in the local zoning ordinance. “They want us to appeal.”

For Greg, though, it’s too much of a distraction at this point; they have a business to run and that’s where the focus needs to be as they wrap up extension renovations to the historic building, including a major redo of the Beach Club. Renovations include adding three 1,500-pound beams to replace columns to open up the interior of the Beach Club, a change in the color scheme to freshen it up, making the women’s room twice as big, and moving the location of the men’s room, which had been in the Beach Club. It’s now in the restaurant across the floor from the women’s room.

“We’re weighing our options,” Greg said. “We can appeal, but we don’t know what we’re going to end up doing. It costs a lot of money.”

The couple sought to build a two-tiered outdoor dining deck for approximately 60 people. The deck was 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 more accessible from the inside since it has a tiered dining room. There would be a counter to accommodate diners but no bar serving alcohol.

The area in question is flanked by the hotel on two sides and the parking lot on one side. The fourth side of the proposed outdoor dining area was opened to Eight Street. The hotel, which dates back to the 1800s, and stretches the full block between Eighth and Ninth streets, is located in an area zoned business and residential area. The deck was to be located in the business district, Colleen said.

“We were ready to go,” Greg said, if the Land Used Board had granted approval at its March 28 meeting. “We’ve had everything lined up so people could enjoy outdoor dining this summer.”

The board’s decision came after Greg amended the application to address concerns from nearby residential neighbors, including shutting down the proposed deck at 9 p.m. to everyone, stopping all outdoor music at 8 p.m., making sure any outdoor lighting does not adversely impact neighboring homes and prohibiting smoking.

“It feels like there’s nothing we could have said or done differently that would have made a difference,” Greg said. “It wasn’t a genuine conversation.”

As one of the largest employers in Surf City, and on the Island in general, the absence of outdoor dining puts the Surf City Hotel at a disadvantage among its competitors. Daddy O Restaurant, Bar and Hotel in Long Beach Township offers outdoor dining. In Beach Haven, the Engleside Inn and the Sea Shell also offer an outdoor dining option for their hotel customers as well as the general public, too.

“When the community and the business owners are in sync,” Colleen said, then changed course. “How many houses do you know of that don’t have a deck?”

— Gina G. Scala

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