Restaurants Retain Outdoor Dining Exemption

OCEAN CITY – Restaurants will remain exempt from providing additional parking if their outdoor dining area is considered to be 51 percent open on all sides.

The Mayor and City Council have decided to approve a code amendment recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission onto first reading regarding outdoor dining space and a restaurant’s required amount of parking.

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained the Planning and Zoning Commission have been working on the code amendment since January. He said he first brought the issue forward because the code needed to be brought up to date due to the increase in outdoor dining areas around town.

“There was no control on how much outside dining area you could have in relationship with parking,” Smith said. “We were starting to get a number of open porches with roofs covered areas that wanted outside dining to expand the year round type operation.”

The code was last amended in 2007 that allowed for outdoor dining to be exempt from parking as long as outdoor dining did not exceed the enclosed floor area of the restaurant. If the establishment exceeded the amount of outside dining area to the enclosed area then one parking space needs to be provided for every 200 square feet.

“Prior to 2007 the code language simply said ‘outdoor dining with no enclosure of any kind’,” Smith said. “So that is totally outdoors, no roof, no anything.”

Smith added that it is not Planning and Zoning Commission’s means to change the formula of required parking space. The only issue is to define enclosed and unenclosed dining area to determine the required amount of parking space.

“We believe that there is need for outside dining, and enhanced outdoor dining, to become more of a year-round operative type of venue,” Smith said.

During the month-long process, the Planning and Zoning Commission considered how to more specifically define the term “unenclosed outdoor dining” as it relates to parking requirements and parking exemptions. The commission considered specifying that an unenclosed outdoor dining area must be completely open, unenclosed and uncovered, with the exception of temporary removable table top umbrellas and open railings not to exceed the minimum dimensional standards required by life safety regulations.

The proposed ordinance lists the following requirements in an establishment measuring for the required parking space. The ordinance states, “Restaurants, fast food restaurant, cocktail lounge, tavern or nightclub or other establishments for the consumption of food or beverages on or off the premises: One space per 100 square feet of enclosed gross floor area, minimum of five spaces.”

The exemption applies only if a roofed over area remains at least 51% open on all sides with no enclosure of any kind, and a railing system no higher than 42” with open pickets is not to be considered an enclosure. Establishments with non-conforming parking status may only exempt parking for outdoor dining areas equal to the number of parking spaces provided on-site at the rate of one space per 100 square feet of outdoor dining area.

“I think it is a good idea because outdoor dining is fun and people want it,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.

She also pointed out that an outdoor dining area’s roof does not count as the space’s percentage of enclosure.

Smith said that since the beginning of the process the Planning and Zoning Commission has been concerned over the roof factor.

“That was one of the issues they dealt with in their administrative review and in the public hearing, whether or not the roof would be limited and in the end they did recommend as long as the sidewalls are 51 percent open,” Smith said.

Councilman Joe Hall said he is concerned over having the code become too complicated.

“We want to utilize outdoor space and we want commercial properties to be able to prosper,” he pointed out at first but then added that if conforming businesses are to push outside the footprint of their building then the burden of parking is going to be passed onto neighboring property’s and city streets.

Smith explained that is what the amendment is trying to cover. He explained that the commission’s definition of open, or unenclosed, dining area, will clarify to what point a restaurant can expand without having to provide additional parking.

“They [commission] know that we need to provide some level of accommodation for our tourists and these areas are very important to the businesses that they can give them an enhanced experience without being unenclosed,” Smith said.

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