Selbyville to reconsider restaurant and alcohol amendment

The Selbyville Town Council won’t order new restrictions on restaurants yet, having tabled a proposed law that would regulate some alcohol sales and consumption.

After residents and business owners shared questions and concerns at a public hearing on Dec. 5, the council agreed to continue fine-tuning the proposed amendment to Selbyville Zoning Code Chapter 200.

The amendment would serve several purposes: to define bar, restaurant, nightclub and cocktail lounge; to limit the hours each day during which alcoholic beverages may be sold; to prohibit stand-up consumption of alcoholic beverages; to create a licensing process for restaurants; to allow existing restaurants an exception for nonconformance; and provide for the enforcement of these rules.

“We license every other business in town, but we don’t require a license [for eateries], and we don’t define them,” said Mayor Clifton Murray. “We don’t have a set of clear-cut definitions for somebody to come and say, ‘What can I do?’”

The town council sought to classify restaurants, define restaurants’ use of alcohol and prohibit the stand-up consumption of alcohol. Restaurants would be permitted if their primary purpose was food sales, not alcohol sales, which would prohibit bars and nightclubs operating in the town.

Alcoholic beverages could not be sold between the hours of 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. within the corporate limits of Selbyville. On-site consumption of alcohol would be prohibited between 11:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. Existing businesses could apply for “nonconforming status.”

With the proposed change, Selbyville council members aimed to reduce crime and police costs while strengthening the town’s enforcement authority.

Police Chief Scott Collins said the Town has dealt with problems of fights and crowds, in restaurants and outside. Issues, he noted, usually arise at restaurants with late closing times, around 1:30 or 2 a.m. Businesses that close early do not have these problems, Collins said.

Such problems have led to a lot of police activity, overtime, calls and safety issues in recent years, the council said.

“It seems, after midnight, there are some activities that go on that aren’t conducive to what the Town would like to have,” said Councilman Jay Murray, who said he wanted to promote a family atmosphere and safe environment in Selbyville. “We’re certainly not trying to hurt anyone’s business; we’re trying to encourage properly-run business.”

Residents asked what led to the amendment, as Sean Oates of Murphy’s Bar & Grill (formerly Erin’s Pub and Dublin Steakhouse) said he has not called the police to his establishment in more than two years. Council members said they had discussed the proposal for some time, with each other and with an attorney.

Jay Murray thanked Oates for “doing the right thing” but said the town had little power to enforce the current law, as a restaurant could deny responsibility for incidents that happen in the parking lot or down the road. The amendment, he said, is aimed at preventing that problem. The amendment also includes penalties for noncompliance.

As Selbyville plans for future growth and commercial development, Jay Murray said the town wants to prevent additional problems, which cost a lot in police resources.

Collins said the police department has worked with business owners, attorneys and Alcohol Beverage Control officials, but to no avail.

“When you come to the point where you’re having discussions with an establishment’s attorney to try to rectify a situation, something’s gone haywire,” Collins said.

Council members emphasized that the proposed amendment had been drawn from those already in place in other nearby towns.

“We didn’t dream this up,” Jay Murray said.

Currently, Murphy’s Bar & Grill and Pomeroy’s are the only establishments that stay open late among the Selbyville restaurants that serve alcohol, which also include Cactus Café, Georgia House and Pizzelli’s.

Even though his existing business would have an exception from the law, Oates said he was concerned about Selbyville’s discouraging restaurant chains, such as Ruby Tuesday, from having their usual late-night bars.

“The economy can’t be bad forever,” said Oates. “It’s got to turn around. Being restrictive, rather than being more open to new business, is probably not the way to go.”

Citizens also expressed fear that new businesses might not bother with a restrictive Selbyville, although the council said laws can be changed in the future.

“It’s not trying to run away business,” said Jay Murray. “We’re trying to do away with that nightclub atmosphere and elements that are hard for any owner/operator to control.”

He said businesses sometimes have difficulty maintaining safety and control in late-night towns like Dewey Beach, Ocean City, Md., and Salisbury, Md.

If someone goes out at midnight, it’s not for dinner, said Clifton Murray.

Oates said locals who work late-night summertime jobs often eat and relax at Murphy’s before going home, enjoying a venue without the city atmosphere.

John Pomeroy of Pomeroy’s agreed that he does a “tremendous” amount of food and beverage between midnight and 1 a.m.

“I just don’t want to see business lost in this town,” said resident Lu Creel. “There are too many people going out of business as it is.”

“You got to have residential growth to support business growth,” said Jay Murray. “If it’s unsafe, people won’t live here.”

He said the town must handle these problems when businesses can’t control it.

Pomeroy’s took a different route when gangs from Salisbury, Md., and Berlin, Md., got out of control. The eatery and liquor store hired professional security personnel to eliminate conflicts before they begin, said Pomeroy.

“Believe this or not, we like peace and tranquility just as much as you all do,” said Pomeroy. “Maybe more so.”

He said security costs them up to $1,000 nightly. “But it’s expensive not being in business, not being part of the town.”

Resident Dave Cook also suggested there could be an exceptions process for new businesses that want to stay open later.

The amendment was tabled for future discussion. The council said they would welcome alternative solutions to the problem but emphasized that the issue must be addressed.

In other Selbyville news:

• Councilmember Frank Smith III said he recently witnessed Mountaire parking its live-haul trailers in an area not permitted under town zoning. He requested the town manager notify the company because box trailers would be allowed there, but not livestock.

• The council discussed the cause of odors that periodically emit from Mountaire’s facility, citing the factory’s wastewater treatment system.

“I’m surprised the townspeople aren’t calling and complaining,” said Bob Dickerson, town manager. “We’ve had no letters, no support from the townspeople.”

“We just figured we have to put up with it,” said Creel.

Citizens are always welcome to submit letters, questions and complaints for the town manager to address, they emphasized. However, little can be done until the matter is recorded on paper, they said.

• Water is still being tested randomly for contaminants and flushed daily, which prevents impurities from forming.

Town officials were planning to meet with Hydro Design Inc., to discuss ways to improve Selbyville’s backflow system.

• Sandy Givans, Mary Louise Warrington and Virginia Pepper were named to the Board of Elections for 2012.

• The Council commended the Bethany-Fenwick Area chamber of Commerce for a successful Christmas parade.

• The next Town Council meeting will be Jan. 9 at 7 p.m.