Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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

Outside dining is available in front of Malama Cafe in Carolina Beach, one block from the Boardwalk. Port City Daily / photo by Mark Darrough
Outside dining at Malama Cafe in Carolina Beach, one block from the Boardwalk. (Port City Daily/File)

CAROLINA BEACH — Almost two months after Carolina Beach officials discussed problems with local business’ sidewalk cafes, the council unanimously approved a set of new rules to improve pedestrian traffic and coordination with business owners. 

READ MORE: Carolina Beach town council seeks to refine its sidewalk cafe regulations

“The goal when we started this was not to make a bunch of changes but to get back to consistency, since we drifted all over the place,” Mayor Lynn Barbee said at the Tuesday council meeting.

After a presentation on the new regulations from senior planner Gloria Abbotts, council unanimously approved Barbee’s motion to amend chapter 34, article III of town ordinances. The update includes new requirements for barriers, advanced notice for removal of stanchions, and new fine and permit costs.

One major change to the ordinance regards encroachment removal. Previously, businesses were required to remove outside chairs, tables, and other objects every night at 12 a.m. Staff no longer will regulate sidewalk cafe operating hours. Instead, cafe owners will follow rules in accordance with state law, allowing them to remain open until 2 a.m.

The Carolina Beach ordinance will be updated to give business owners a 24-hour notice from the town if they need to remove outside encroachments. Notices will be delivered by both email and as a physical note.

If town staff has to remove encroachments after the 24-hour notice period, the business will be fined $100. The town will have no liability for damage to tables, chairs, and other outside objects they move after the period. 

Abbotts said there is new scheduled cleaning and powerwashing on the boardwalk requiring removal of encroachments. It will occur approximately three times per season from Harper Avenue to Cape Fear Boulevard. 

The town will increase physical barrier uniformity with a set of new requirements:

  • Barriers must have a minimum height of 36 inches and maximum height of 48 inches
  • Barriers must be stable, removable, and freestanding
  • The base of the barrier must be flat footed and square no more than a half-inch in height
  • A minimum of two and maximum of three rigid wood or metal connections to each barrier
  • Signs attached to barrier may be connected in accordance with town signage ordinance

Planning director Jeremy Hardison presented the updates at a Nov. 9 meeting with business owners to garner feedback. According to a list from council member Deb LeCompte, Hurricane Alley’s, Salty’s, Shuckin’ Shack, Malama Cafe, Silver Dollar, Latella Gelato, and Beach Bumz were the businesses in attendance.

“I’m ready for the blowback, so I’m trying to figure out: Were the businesses generally supportive of what we’re doing?” Barbee asked after Abbotts’ presentation.

LeCompte said most feedback revolved around medallions. 

How to demarcate sidewalk cafes has been among points of discussion for months. Previously, business owners used stanchions without uniform size requirements. 

Council member Jay Healy said in a September meeting the physical barriers were obtrusive  and looked “terrible.” He argued their removal would “definitely clean up downtown.”

Council members considered in recent months making medallions the primary method of designating boundaries instead. Medallions can be built into the ground without taking up space, rather than physical barriers around the sidewalk cafes.

Barbee recalled the council’s Sept. 26th discussion regarding the medallions emphasized the advantage ground markers hold over physical barriers. For instance, Barbee said stanchions can be moved by foot traffic throughout the night and pose a tripping hazard, whereas medallions are fixed into the ground.

“It would look a lot better without stanchions,” Healy said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Carolina Beach business owners expressed interest to council in using medallions at its Nov. 9. However, LeCompte noted they remain a point of ambiguity because the Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency requires physical barriers. But at least one nearby municipality, the City of Wilmington, has  a medallion program in place, which expanded last year. 

During an October 2022 Wilmington city council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes said city enforcement is “complaint-driven.” Though the zoning administrator Kathryn Thurston said the department keeps an extra eye on establishments utilizing sidewalk cafes.

Barbee and LeCompte said Tuesday that Carolina Beach’s updated regulations allow medallions but put the onus on business owners to heed state law.

“That’s going to be enforced by ALE, not our town staff,” LeCompte said. 

County staff also took notes from the City of Wilmington to change permit costs. Wilmington’s annual sidewalk cafe permit is $150 and $2 per square foot, except for $250 plus $2.50 per square foot as a first-year fee.

Carolina Beach’s annual permit previously cost $200 before increasing to $400 in July; Abbotts noted no businesses paid the higher price in the interim between July’s hike and the new regulations, which started Tuesday. Similar to Wilmington, Carolina Beach’s outside cafe permits will now range significantly in price depending on size, whereas before the cost was uniform.

An annual permit will now be $100 plus $2 for every square foot of encroachment to the public right-of-way, meaning it will be significantly more expensive for larger restaurants.

LeCompte asked Abbotts if retailers would be required to apply for a permit for their outside vendors. It will not apply to them, Abbotts replied, though the encroachment regulations will have to be followed.

She also said another concern staff heard from council, the technical review committee, and business owners regarded corner tables. Staff recommended corner lot “encroachments shall not extend beyond the facade of the building”. At the Sept. 26 council meeting, Barbee highlighted Nauti Dog as an example of a corner table he would like to remove, arguing the area gets congested during high-volume traffic. 

Nauti Dog Manager Katrina Diamond told Port City Daily the one change she believes could help boardwalk businesses with sidewalk cafes is better enforcement of open container laws. Carolina Beach Police Department will enforce the requirement for patrons to remain seated while drinking, already part of town-specific ordinances.

“There’s a lot of people that bring their own beverages down for those major holidays and for firework Thursdays and the police are not writing tickets or following through with the laws,” she said. “That draws a lot of people who aren’t purchasing from the businesses and standing on their property.”

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

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