By Donald Wittkowski
Restaurant and bar customers will be able to eat, drink and be merry without having to worry about Sea Isle City’s alcohol ban on public property.
In a final vote Tuesday, City Council revised a new law that some feared would have prevented restaurant customers from having a glass of wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages while enjoying a meal outdoors.
By all accounts, al fresco dining has proved immensely popular ever since Sea Isle introduced it in 2008 to liven up the local culinary scene and create a more upscale atmosphere in the downtown district. It allows restaurant customers to have drinks with their meals while seated outdoors at tables lining the city’s sidewalks.
However, a new ordinance approved Aug. 14 by Council banning alcohol consumption on all public property in town had raised concerns that a strict interpretation of the law might extend to the private restaurants offering outdoor dining. There was also fear the ban might affect the city’s popular outdoor bars.
City officials stressed that an alcohol ban for outdoor dining or outdoor bars clearly was not the intent of the ordinance. Council dropped some language from the law on Tuesday to clear up any ambiguity or confusion.
The ordinance defines all of the public areas where drinking is not allowed, including popular spots such as parks, the beaches and the oceanfront Promenade. It also included language that would have banned alcohol at “privately owned properties set aside primarily for public access and use and exposed to public view.”
Those words, though, were removed from the ordinance Tuesday to make it clear that the alcohol ban would not extend to outdoor dining at local restaurants or drinking at the outdoor bars, city officials said.
During the Aug. 28 Council meeting, Christopher Glancey, president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, questioned why language was ever included in the ordinance that grouped private property in with public property for the alcohol ban. He said confusion over the ban “really upset” some people.
Glancey expressed relief Tuesday after Council dropped the language.
“It won’t affect outside dining or private property. That had been everyone’s concern,” he said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the language change in the ordinance also clears the way for local bars to continue holding special events in their parking lots that include alcoholic beverages.
There were concerns that if the original wording had not been removed, the bars would have been prohibited from serving alcohol during shows and other entertainment staged on their private parking lots. LaCosta Lounge, for instance, converts its parking lot into an entertainment hub for the city’s popular Polar Bear Plunge weekend and the Irish Festival.
Members of Council said it was never their intent to target the special events or entertainment sponsored by the bars on their private property.
Council has approved an alcohol ban on public property and in public buildings as part of a broader campaign by Police Chief Tom McQuillen to clamp down on drinking on the beaches and at Excursion Park, the city’s main venue for concerts, shows and festivals.
“The No. 1 thing the chief has heard about is drinking in public,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said at the Aug. 28 Council meeting.
Previously, an exemption had been carved out allowing nonprofit organizations to serve alcoholic beverages during special events at Excursion Park, but the loophole was closed when Council originally approved the ordinance that prohibits drinking on public property.