SURF CITY — A beach community in Pender County is considering a change to its town guidelines that would expand possibilities for special events. Surf City Town Council discussed at its Aug. 19 work session suspending a local ordinance to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold within town rights-of-way.
Town ordinance Sec. 12-11, alcoholic beverage possession and consumption, has been in place since 1992. It states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to consume or possess an open container of malt beverage or unfortified wine on any street, sidewalk, or alley of the town, including those temporarily closed to regular traffic for special events.”
Yet, the ordinance also notes alcohol consumption can be conducted on property “owned, occupied, or controlled by the town government, including but not limited to public parks, sound accesses, and municipal buildings and grounds” for special events.
Town Manager Kyle Breuer provided an example: “If someone is renting out our welcome center and there’s a portion of the event occurring across the street on private property, you’re not able to walk across the street carrying alcohol.”
Council agreed to temporarily suspend the ordinance for a popular annual fundraiser, Ocean Fest, which takes place at Roland Avenue Beach Access, adjacent to the Surf City Pier. Organizers of Ocean Fest approached Surf City leadership requesting it be allowed to sell alcohol within closed-off roadways Oct. 7 and 8.
The town makes exceptions currently for Bridge Jam and Sip, Shop and Stroll held at Soundside Park.
It’s not the first time Ocean Fest organizers approached the town; in 2020 it asked for clarification on its ordinance and proposed a similar change to what’s being requested again. City council at the time voted against any updates that would allow for alcohol consumption within the town’s rights-of-way.
The city is considering a “trial run” with Ocean Fest’s request this year, with future deliberation about a permanent overhaul of the ordinance at the behest of Surf City’s special events committee. Council will discuss impacts from the event at its October work session to guide decisions on long-term plans for overturning the ordinance.
If repealed, the town would work alongside the special events committee to allow open containers at designated areas in town, under specific provisions and conditions agreed upon by town staff.
The events are subject to the town manager’s approval and must be recommended by the committee.
Council member Buddy Fowler, who sits on the committee, said at the work session the updated ordinance would bring the town “up to date, into the present.” He added Surf City has refused multiple events in the past due to the ordinance.
Breuer said to Port City Daily he didn’t know of any events that were turned away as a result of its ordinance, but many have had to modify what was originally proposed.
A two-day live music, arts and eco-festival, Ocean Fest proceeds are shared with local and statewide environmental nonprofits, such as Oceana, NC Coastal Federation, Plastic Ocean Project, NC Aquariums, and Karen Beasley Turtle Rescue.
In the past, there were designated “beer gardens” set up around the Roland Avenue Beach Access during the event, but not in the streets where vendors and artists are lined up. This year the hosts are asking to allow open-carry beverages — beer, wine and liquor — throughout the closed-off roadways in center city. However, alcohol sales would end at 5 p.m. when the concert portion begins.
“If people are able to consume alcohol in the street, there has to be soft closures of roads and we don’t want that to continue too long throughout the day,” he said to PCD.
Town attorney Brian Edes confirmed to council at its last meeting it can legally authorize the temporary suspension without “setting a legally binding precedent.”
“Can we send through the resolution and adoption process, put a timeframe in which this would be in place, and staff would know in three months, four months, that council will revisit the ordinance?” Breuer asked Edes.
If the town moved in that direction, Breuer said it would not “inadvertently” take control away from the special events committee to apply certain conditions.
For instance, parks, recreation and tourism director Jodi Shepard pointed to Bridge Jam in Soundside Park, which ends alcohol sales 30 minutes before the event ends.
Council member John Koliski compared it to baseball stadiums where they close beer vendors in the 6th inning as an added safety measure.
He also raised concerns about who would be responsible for anyone over-consuming, as bartenders are in restaurant settings. The liability would fall on the event organizer, and police officers would also be assigned to the area for checking IDs and ensuring safety of patrons.
Breuer said suspending the ordinance means staff, and multiple town departments — law enforcement, emergency management and fire — would be involved in the decision-making for event conditions.
“Fire and police will certainly be the driver of those conditions,” he said.
Primarily, they would need to make sure the allowance does not impede safety measures for the town at-large.
The council will vote Sept. 6 to approve the temporary suspension, likely on its consent agenda, Breuer said, as discussion was already had during its work session.
“We still want to maintain our family friendly beach town, so we want to make sure we’re mitigating efforts and things are done in a controlled manner,” Breuer said. “But we’re also recognizing a desire to be able to consume alcohol as part of events like [Ocean Fest].”
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