Roadmap to Recovery: Mayor Meehan and Council Members Discuss Outdoor Dining on Public Property in Ocean City
In Monday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan and councilpersons discussed steps in the long-awaited return to normalcy, as both residents and tourists in Ocean City anxiously await a full reopening. The meeting was dominated by a discussion regarding outdoor dining and what restaurateurs without available private property can do to bring back business.
A shared concern of both council members and restaurant owners is insurance, which will be necessary to ensure that the town of Ocean City is indemnified from any legal action.
City Manager Doug Miller kicked off the meeting by suggesting that there is not a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to outdoor dining on public property and that it should be reviewed on a case by case basis. A major concern set forth by Miller was alcohol. He recommends that there should be no alcohol allowed on the beach or boardwalk and that proprietors should install barricades around their dining areas.
Council member Matt James displayed faith in business owners, saying that they are more likely to enforce guidelines set forth by the town more now than ever before considering their raging desire to resume operations. Throughout the meeting, members made clear that drinking while dining on sidewalks is viewed favorably by the liquor board. Other worries regarding parking, noise, deliveries, and dumpster access as well as maintaining ADA standards were addressed. Discussions also included hand washing stations along with waiting stations for servers.
Another concern echoed by several councilpersons was if outdoor dining will continue if and when limited indoor seating is announced by Governor Larry Hogan. While the council did not reach a verdict on the matter, their commitment to simply reopening businesses was clear. Council member Tony DeLuca called for a “sense of urgency” and Council member Matt James added, “With people’s livelihoods being destroyed, we should be as willing to help as possible.” Council Secretary Mary Knight shared her colleagues’ views, stating, “I think it should be done immediately. People are ready and willing.”
City Manager Miller tallied that about 40 private entities have already been approved for outdoor dining and that three businesses have contacted the town about utilizing public spaces. That number is expected to increase dramatically in the lead-up to a string of meetings that are set to kick off on Thursday.
While all of the elected officials represented their unclouded commitment to the reopening of businesses, they disagree on the speed at which the approval process for outdoor dining should take place. Mayor Meehan along with Council member Mark Paddack advocated that they should approve each public property matter on outdoor dining through ongoing zoom meetings, while Council members James and DeLuca disagreed, calling for a more rapid reopening and more faith in town staff. They believe that problems that arise at individual restaurants can always be sorted out later and that businesses should be provided more leeway during these unprecedented times.
Following a period of debate, an agreement was reached. Beginning this Thursday at 4:00 p. m., Mayor Meehan and councilpersons will begin approving or denying applications for private entities to use public property for outdoor dining. These meetings will occur each business day until applications stop rolling in.
Later, Council member Dennis Dare addressed the controversy over photos from previous weekends displaying a crowded scene and a lack of physical distancing on the boardwalk. He argued that benches on the boardwalk be kept six feet apart.
Additionally, Council member James made clear that masks should not be required outdoors, and others concurred with his sentiment, but reminded the public that masks are necessary inside and required by Governor Larry Hogan’s orders. This sparked a conversation about yellow physical distancing signs present across Ocean City, which remind both residents and visitors to maintain a six-foot distance.
Finally, Mayor Meehan thanked restaurant owners for their patience. He added that he sent another letter to Annapolis for Governor Hogan Monday, advocating that as numbers continue to flatten, we should allow more businesses to open as long as they do so in compliance with guidelines set forth by both the state and the CDC.
The Ocean City Council will hold its next regular meeting on Monday, June 15th at 6:00 p.m. By that point, Marylanders are hopeful that Governor Hogan will have kicked off Stage Two of the reopening process, which may include more indoor activities and raising the number of people allowed to gather. For now, allowing many Ocean City restaurants to serve their loyal patrons for outdoor dining is surely a paramount step in the right direction.