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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

CB denies Silver Dollar’s request for sidewalk cafe amendment

Carolina Beach Town Council denied Silver Dollar’s request for an amendment to the sidewalk cafe ordinance at the March 12 meeting. (Courtesy photo)

CAROLINA BEACH — An iconic bar in the heart of Carolina Beach’s tourism district failed to amend the town’s sidewalk cafe policy after council members expressed concern it could set a precedent inhibiting pedestrian access and safety.

READ MORE: ‘Get back to consistency’: Carolina Beach to enforce new sidewalk cafe rules

ALSO: Carolina Beach town council seeks to refine its sidewalk café regulations

At the Tuesday meeting, council denied a request from Silver Dollar — a bar and grill on 3 Cape Fear Blvd., founded in 1957 — to expand allowable sidewalk cafe encroachments to one-third of the boardwalk. The ordinance currently limits encroachments to one-fourth, or 5 feet, of the 20-foot walkway.

The motion for denial passed 4-1; council member Joe Benson dissented.

In an email to senior planner Gloria Abbotts from Silver Dollar’s management team before the council meeting, the owners stated their intention was to amend the entire ordinance rather than request a variance for only Silver Dollar.

“We would like to emphasize that we did not apply for this text amendment in order to get ourselves an ‘exception’ to the rule, but did so through the recommendation of many others, to help clarify what many see as confusing and unfair specific readings or applications of the ordinance,” the email stated.

Silver Dollar added sidewalk cafes on the oceanfront Boardwalk are allowed 6-feet encroachments and requested all businesses be granted the same outdoor space. 

“It treats people differently,” said attorney Lee Levinson, a member of Silver Dollar’s ownership team, who represented the request before the council.

Council approved new sidewalk cafe regulations in November, including requirements for barriers, advanced notice for removal of stanchions, and new fine and permit costs.  It reached out to local business owners in September to refine policy and balance business interests with pedestrian safety before voting two months later unanimously to begin enforcing rules. PCD reached out to the town to ask if there was a grace period before enforcements went into effect but did not receive a response by press.

The meeting’s agenda states the town sent Silver Dollar a violation letter on Dec. 20 for building a barrier without permits, listing violations including extending beyond 5 feet of the boardwalk. Abbotts told Port City Daily the violation did not include fines.

The Silver Dollar ownership team told Port City Daily they did not receive the request until Wednesday and provided a letter dated March 13.

Silver Dollar argued the town should also allow businesses to apply for encroachment length extensions, rather than hardline 5-foot or 6-foot limits. The business owners contended factors — the lack of other sidewalk cafes or other structures limiting available open space — should be considered in granting extensions. 

Silver Dollar ownership team told PCD they have an agreement to use the space with property owners across the street, Carolina Beach Land Holdings LLC, which owns 1 Carolina Beach S and 3 Boardwalk. The company owns boardwalk property used for the town’s seasonal amusement park and is currently involved with the town in ongoing litigation and negotiations to return the Ferris wheel.

“Just because the language is not here, Mr. Mayor, I would maybe offer an audible,” Benson said at the meeting, before suggesting encroachments be allowed at one-third of the width of the boardwalk, so long as there’s not a business on the other side of the walkway inhibiting pedestrian access.

Planning director Jeremy Hardison responded the oceanfront area is owned by the town, which can control its future development and allow greater encroachment space for businesses in the area.

Mayor Pro Tem Deb LeCompte said she did not believe different standards on different sections of the boardwalk impedes businesses; she reiterated Hardison’s comment regarding the difference between the town’s certainty about future development on the oceanfront boardwalk versus uncertainty about future businesses that could move into the section containing Silver Dollar.

“My fear is if we set a precedent, anybody else can do it,” council member Jay Healy stated, noting the town had worked on the policy for months. Councilmember Mike Hoffer said he was sympathetic to the request but expressed similar concerns about long-term implications of the amendment.

Also opposed to the request was Mayor Lynn Barbee, who cited concerns about pedestrian access and safety. He specified visually-impaired or disabled residents could have difficulty navigating tighter pedestrian space.

“We set a standard and like Jay said, we worked on this for months,” LeCompte said, “The public was invited, business owners were invited, the chamber of commerce had roundtables on it. So, to say you’re unaware, for me, means you ignored what was going on.”

Silver Dollar’s ownership team countered they had been in contact with the town about the issue for months and argued they had sufficient space to maintain pedestrian safety.

“Currently the 6ft special allowance for the boardwalk businesses only allows for about 9 feet of open space for pedestrians, whereas businesses like the Silver Dollar, Nauti Dogs, and the Tropical would have roughly 14 feet of open space for pedestrians to safely travel,” the team wrote in a statement to PCD.

Benson indicated he thought allowing businesses with sufficient space to apply for encroachment extensions would be a better solution. He noted if a new business came into the pavilion area, the length extension could be withdrawn.

LeCompte responded: “But why go back and forth?”

Benson said it was a risk businesses applying for greater space could take.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Abbotts said allowing more space for businesses would reduce the pedestrian accessway to about 2.33 feet on both sides of the boardwalk. 

She noted the request would allow signage and merchandise in a larger range of the sidewalk. Town staff recommended denial of the request, arguing the amendment would impede the town’s ability to put trash cans, benches, and other amenities in the pedestrian buffer zone.

According to the March 12 council agenda, technical review committee members found the larger encroachment would “reduce the walkable area in an already congested area of the boardwalk during peak season.”

The business’ management team disagreed in a statement:

“The Silver Dollar has gone to great lengths to make the very best outdoor cafe possible, while always keeping the public interest as a top priority. While we can simply saw off a foot of our outdoor cafe to be in compliance, it doesn’t solve the unequal treatment of all businesses, nor does it meet the 9 stated goals of the ordinance.”

The ordinance’s stated goals include applying fair and equitable regulations for the private use of commercial public spaces, to assure safe and comfortable streets, to promote economic and pedestrian activities, and to enhance the appearance of public areas.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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