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Alcohol soon might be served outside; council moves ahead on restaurant sidewalk seating

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 6/6/18

Changes to Middletown ordinances that would allow restaurants to have outdoor seating to serve alcohol on public sidewalks could be approved in early July.

Borough council decided during its June …

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Alcohol soon might be served outside; council moves ahead on restaurant sidewalk seating

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Changes to Middletown ordinances that would allow restaurants to have outdoor seating to serve alcohol on public sidewalks could be approved in early July.

Borough council decided during its June 4 meeting that the changes will be advertised June 19, so they could be adopted at the council’s July 9 meeting.

That would clear the way for restaurants such as Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works, which sought permission from the borough for outdoor seating to serve alcohol.

Separate permission to do so still would need to be obtained from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. A restaurant cannot apply to the LCB for that permission until approval from the borough has been granted, according to Tattered Flag CEO Pat Devlin.

Council by 6-0 vote approved two proposals.

One would exempt restaurants that have obtained permission to serve alcohol on public sidewalks from the borough’s existing open container ordinance.

The ordinance as written says it is illegal to possess an open container of alcohol on a public sidewalk.

The second change, which generated the most discussion, would establish the process by which the borough grants permission. As initially drafted by the borough solicitor, this ordinance would allow for an annual permit to be granted by the borough manager.

At the urging of Councilor Robert Reid, the language was changed so that permits must be approved by the council.

Reid in proposing the change referred to the Tattered Flag outdoor seating proposal, which envisions seating on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant on South Union Street, but also along West Emaus Street.

Reid has said he is OK with outdoor seating along South Union, but objects to seating on West Emaus because he does not believe it can be adequately monitored by Tattered Flag.

Council Vice President Dawn Knull voiced the same objection at previous council meetings.

The most discussion by far had to do with the type of partition that council wants to require as the dividing line between where outdoor seating is allowed and the rest of the public sidewalk. A space at least 48 inches wide must be allowed on the sidewalk for public use.

In the end, council settled on a compromise in which each business seeking outdoor seating would need to have a “non-permanent” but “ridged” black or white fence.

The fence is to be made of aluminum or a similar type of substance to be defined in the ordinance as “resin.” The partition is to be exactly 36 inches tall — no more, no less.

Otherwise, businesses can design their partition as they wish, within the parameters of the language in the ordinance.

The discussion regarding the partition was prompted by concerns raised by Mayor James H. Curry III.

Curry repeatedly has said that the type of partition should be more rigid than a rope, but could be something that can be moved and taken inside at the end of each night.

A rope would be too easy for someone sitting in a chair to extend the outdoor seating area into the public sidewalk space, Curry has said.

Curry also pressed for borough council to establish a uniform standard for what the partition should be, instead of leaving it open for council to judge whatever it considers to be aesthetically pleasing.

“If it is spelled out and very clear and everyone is uniform, it would also add to the look of the town in terms of everyone looking the same with the outdoor seating area. It really avoids the argument” of the borough having to judge what is aesthetically pleasing on a case-by-case basis. “You are either with the ordinance or you are not.”

That the outdoor seating is to be on a public sidewalk — not on the businesses’ own private property — gives the borough authority to dictate what is and what is not to be allowed regarding the type of partition to be used, Curry contended.

Councilors Jenny Miller and Angela Lloyd agreed with Curry.

“I like the idea of having them all the same, because it just defines what it is,” Miller said. “When you see it you know what it is for.”

Lloyd said establishing a uniform standard for the partitions would enable council to consider and act on each request in a timely manner.

However, Reid and Council President Damon Suglia both objected to council limiting the color of the partition to black.

“I don’t go along with that,” Reid said.

“If we had 20 businesses side by side, yes” but the restaurants in the borough wanting outdoor seating are not all located next to one another, Reid said.

Suglia suggested some of the requirements were too restrictive.

Council should give businesses enough flexibility for their partition to “tie in” with the decor of their respective restaurant, he said. “Each business is unique to itself.”

Councilor Mike Woodworth struck more of a middle ground, saying he agreed with council setting parameters regarding the type of fencing to be used, but that businesses should be free to choose the color.

Councilor Ian Reddinger did not express a preference, saying he thought council was “overthinking” the issue.

Reid and Suglia ultimately agreed to the compromise language allowing for the partition to be either black or white.