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Think through outdoor bar seating before rushing a decision because of summer: Editorial

Posted 5/2/18

For many people, there is something about consuming an adult beverage outdoors, on a pleasant summer evening, that makes it taste just a little bit better.

We get that.

But we want to pump the …

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Think through outdoor bar seating before rushing a decision because of summer: Editorial

Posted

For many people, there is something about consuming an adult beverage outdoors, on a pleasant summer evening, that makes it taste just a little bit better.

We get that.

But we want to pump the brakes for a moment as the Middletown Borough Council looks at Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works’ request for permission to provide outdoor seating.

It is looking for seats for up to 26 customers at eight tables in front of its home in the former Elks Building at South Union and West Emaus streets.

Is this a good idea, not just for businesses but for the residents of the borough? Will there be safety concerns? Noise concerns? Litter concerns?

This is not just a matter of OK’ing a few outdoor seats for Tattered Flag. Borough laws would need to be changed. Mayor James H. Curry III noted during a recent council meeting that the open container ordinance as written does not permit the seating it has requested.

The ordinance “has been talked about and debated for years. I can promise that Tattered Flag is not the only business in this town that will want that. We are going to have many of these requests,” the mayor said.

Indeed, in 2007, the former Guido McNeal’s wanted outdoor seating at its restaurant just off the square at Main and Union streets.

The borough police chief told Guido’s owner Steve Wian he would be violating the open container ordinance, putting the end to the outdoor seating, Wian told the Press & Journal in September 2016.

We agree with Curry that any changes would not only affect Tattered Flag, but all borough establishments that have the type of liquor license that the Tattered Flag has, such as Hops and Barley (on the site of what was Guido’s), the Black Horse Tavern, the Hop Yard and more.

Clearly, outdoor seating is the norm in other parts of the country and even the region, such as in Harrisburg and Lancaster.

But many of Middletown’s bars and taverns abut residential areas. That adds a different level to the discussion.

In theory, we aren’t opposed to outdoor seating. But we believe it must be properly vetted. In this case, we think that vetting might need to take an extra level.

While Tattered Flag is not the only establishment that could benefit from outdoor seating, it is in a unique position.

The borough has a vested interest as Tattered Flag was “financed” by the borough’s Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, according to a copy of Tattered Flag CEO Pat Devlin’s presentation to council provided to the Press & Journal.

The ICDA in 2015 loaned Tattered Flag $1.5 million to help the fledgling business renovate the Elks Building into the brewery, brew-pub and still works.

Of the loan, $400,000 went for Tattered Flag’s purchase of the Elks Building, which at the time was owned by the ICDA. The authority still owns the Elks Theatre along West Emaus Street.

The duration of the loan is 25 years, at 4 percent interest. Tattered Flag pays the borough $7,917.56 a month.

Tattered Flag has been fully open to the public since the end of 2016.

The Tattered Flag presentation says that owners “are open to any recommendations from the council to move forward quickly with this plan in preparation for the summer season,” and Devlin said Tattered Flag is ready to offer open seating as soon as possible pending approvals from the borough and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which must provide separate state approval on open seating.

Council President Damon Suglia said after the meeting he is “all for” the Tattered Flag request for open seating and that the issue will not be placed “on the back burner,” given that warm weather is fast approaching.

Here is where we want to see care taken.

For years to come, the ramifications of council’s decision will reverberate throughout our town’s business and residential communities. Reaching a decision should be deliberate and not be pushed through just because summer is coming. Tattered Flag could have brought this before council earlier in the year.

Because of the relationship between the borough and Tattered Flag — and the fact that the borough has a vested interest in seeing it succeed — we believe the matter of outdoor seating at bars and taverns in the borough deserves a well-publicized public hearing.

We recognize that a change would allow all of them, and not just Tattered Flag, to potentially have outdoor seating.

But a public hearing on the matter would eliminate any hint of favoritism.

We urge council to take its time and think this through. We are not opposed to outdoor seating, but we are opposed to moving too quickly just to have something in place by this summer. If it doesn’t get done for many months, there are many summers ahead.