SNOW HILL — It was an eventful afternoon at last week’s Board of License Commissioners (BLC) meeting, with the expansion of two area restaurants’ license premises, multiple requests for the addition of live entertainment and the postponement of a decision to allow facility alterations for an Ocean City business recently found itself in hot water with noise complaints.
First on the docket for a major change was Grotto Pizza, located at 12407 Coastal Highway in Ocean City. It requested the inclusion of live entertainment and was awarded two pieces, four nights a week, from 4-10 p.m. Though live entertainment is always a big change for any business, the size and scope of Grotto’s addition is considered tame for Ocean City.
Across the bridge in West Ocean City, Pizza Tugos made a more ambitious request. Besides asking for live entertainment, owner Scott Heise also requested permission for a disc jockey. The BLC does not have a strong track record of granting businesses DJs due to the fear that they make it easy for a crowd to get out of hand. Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing Pizza Tugos, acknowledged the common concern with disk jockeys but pointed out that Pizza Tugos is relatively removed from residential areas.
“We don’t really foresee any issues with noise. The outside really faces Route 50,” said Cropper.
While a DJ can undeniably energize a crowd, Cropper pledged to the board that Heise is not looking to transform his business into a nightclub.
“He is in the pizza business. He just wants to get people in there to buy his pizza,” said Cropper.
Heise followed up by saying that his only aim is to “build a year-round business.”
“We’re trying to offer a little more of an environment for everybody,” he said.
Besides a DJ and live entertainment, Heise reminded the board that he has a full arcade and other options devoted strictly to families, like a new Coca-Cola mixing machine that can create over 144 flavors of soda and has proven a hit with kids. Besides the 144 sodas, Pizza Tugos also has 50 kinds of beer, illustrating Heise’s argument that he’s taking a full spectrum approach in appealing to all customers.
But in keeping with its traditional reluctance to grant a disc jockey, the BLC denied the request, with member Charles Nichols citing concern over noise leaking out to affect the highway.
“That given the proximity to Route 50, all of the public safety issues, that we deny this request. There’s way too much here for us to swallow,” he said.
Chair William Esham added that there are 18 locations within 1 1/2 miles of Tugos that already offer live entertainment.
Also at the hearing, two businesses had their alcohol licenses expanded to include more outdoor seating. The Crab Bag on 130th Street in Ocean City and Tap House on the Bay Bar and Grill/OC Steamers on 45th Street in Ocean City both received permission to expand from the board.
Crab Bag’s expansion was minor, only asking for the addition of about 60 outdoor seats.
Tap House requested a more extensive change: 2,800 square feet of beach that would include 30 new tables and a large outdoor bar.
The commissioners immediately had concerns about people buying alcohol and then simply leaving that section of the beach, which would violate the Tap House’s license since it doesn’t include a carry-out alcohol permit. General Manager Jeff Burton promised the board that he would have a staff member outside keeping an eye on everything to make sure that no one wandered away.
“That’s not good enough,” said Esham. “If you have someone walk off there with a drink, you’re in trouble.”
Burton was eventually granted permission to expand onto the beach with the condition that fencing be installed to prevent wanderers.
The final item considered by the BLC was a last-minute addition and not on their agenda. Galaxy 66 Bar and Grille owners Roger and Tammy Cebula came before the board asking for permission to install a series of adjustable sliding glass partitions around their Skye Bar.
At the May meeting, the BLC fettered the Skye Bar’s late-night operation by forcing music to be shut down by 8:30 p.m. and removing permission for the bar to have a DJ of any kind. The board also issued a $5,000 fine. The crackdown was all due to the extraordinary number of noise complaints and citations that the Skye Bar managed to accrue last summer.
Attorney Mark Cropper, representing the Cebulas, told the board that his clients are aware of how badly the noise got out of hand and are not asking for any of the privileges that were stripped away in May to be returned at this time.
“I think we’re all familiar with the recent history in regards to this license premises. Mr. and Mrs. Cebula, since that hearing, have tried to do whatever they can to mitigate any impact and improve on the situation,” said Mark Cropper.
Adding the sliding glass dividers would allow the Skye Bar more control over any noise they might generate, Mark Cropper continued.
“The hope is that you will have the same conclusion that we had. This can only improve the situation. There is not, in my opinion, anyway in which this can be detrimental to the neighborhood,” he said.
But Esham expressed some suspicion that asking for the glass partitions now wouldn’t make sense unless the end goal is to have the late-night music or even the DJ returned.
“They’re going to spend all of this money and not want any music after 8:30?” he asked.
Mark Cropper promised that, whatever the owners eventually wanted to ask for, he would not come before the board to ask for an entertainment change given the problems that occurred last summer.
“Mr. Esham, after what I heard at the last hearing, I advised Roger and Tammy that I am not coming down here and requesting any change in entertainment if I’m part of this,” he said.
John Robins, a resident who lives near Galaxy 66 and an attorney who represented several impacted families at the last board hearing, stated that the glass by itself wouldn’t be an issue as long as it didn’t bring the DJ and “nightclub crowd” back.
“If what Roger represented to them is true, and that is that they’re losing their dinner crowd at 8:30 because they have to shut down their music,” said Robins, “and they’re looking for their own music, in-house music, as ambient background music for their dinner crowd, then that’s going to be fine and not an issue.”
If the partitions are just the first step in a campaign to return late-night music and what Robins viewed as a bad atmosphere for the neighborhood, then there would be obvious worries.
“The fear that they have was well expressed by Mr. Esham, if they come back and say, ‘we’re going to play the loud thumping music, and we control the volume, and we control the genre of the music that we’re playing,’ and they’re serving cocktails…then that is going to be a concern,” he said.
The board did not make a decision on the partitions at their June meeting and will instead table it until their next meeting. Because it was a major alteration to the building, the BLC felt that it needed to be advertised, not discussed at the last minute without being on the agenda, so that the public could weigh in if they so choose.
Even if installing the sliding glass can only be an improvement, as Mark Cropper argued, Esham said that the people in that neighborhood are owed a right to take part in the discussion, no matter how minor, due to all of the disturbances they had to endure from the Skye Bar last summer.