OCEAN CITY — Concerns from residents caused the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Wednesday to grant only limited approval for alcoholic beverage licenses for a pair of new Ocean City restaurants.
The first case heard was for Yellow Submarine, proposed to be located at 5801 Coastal Highway. Applicant Keven Myers, who is the general manager of Fager’s Island, first appeared before the BLC for a license in December but withdrew his application after learning that he did not meet the board’s criteria for a Class D license. Myers returned this week after changing his property to meet the requirements, but was met with pushback from representatives of Oasis Condominium, which will neighbor his restaurant.
Oasis was wary of Yellow Submarine’s largely open air design, especially on busy summer nights.
“The noise will be unbearable,” predicted Oasis resident Tom Edwards. “We won’t be able to open the windows at all.”
“As a noise emitter, you could not have it emit more noise,” agreed Oasis resident Michael Helfrich.
The shadow of another open air restaurant hung over the proceedings. Several references were made to Galaxy 66’a Skye Bar, also in Ocean City, an establishment that had many noise violations during the summer of 2012 and consequently most of its entertainment privileges were yanked until the business made a major overhaul.
“One would hope that you’re not going to put us through the same experience as with Galaxy 66,” Helfrich told the board.
But Myers and his attorney Joe Moore argued that they are planning on taking major steps to prevent noise runoff, including consolation with a professional sound contentment engineer and the installation of special, volume controlled speakers. The restaurant would also provide Oasis with a direct line to management to lodge any noise complaints immediately.
Helfrich suggested that Yellow Submarine might need to enclose the open-air top floor. But Myers felt that having that open space was crucial to serving customers in that area who are looking for a specific kind of beach experience.
“There’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of activity there all through the summer time, day time and night time,” he said.
A number of other complaints were lodged by Oasis residents, either through Helfrich’s representation or by submitted letter. These include concerns that the 39 parking spaces, 17 of which will be leased, will not be adequate to cover the 121-seat restaurant. The neighbors were also worried about intoxicated crowds leaving Yellow Submarine en mass when it closed.
Moore told the board that Myers can’t control what his patrons do once they have left the property and to expect him to be able to do so is unfair.
“That is an impossible burden to apply to anyone who comes before this board,” said Moore.
But the BLC members admitted they had concerns about the open-air design.
“Your opposition has made a good case for noise,” BLC Chair William Esham told Moore.
The board ruled that, “in the spirit of cooperation,” it would approve a beer, wine and liquor license for the property but with the stipulation that the open-air second story of Yellow Submarine cease both drink and food service at 10 p.m. and not allow patrons in the area, a condition that would also apply to the open-air deck on the first floor. The enclosed first floor could operate as usual past 10 p.m.
Knowing that Yellow Submarine might have some heartburn over the limitations, Esham noted that the board would consider relaxing the stipulations if the top floor was enclosed in some way and that Myers was free to return for another hearing.
Directly following the decision on Yellow Submarine, the BLC heard a similar case from the Ocean City Brewing Company, which will be located at 5509 Coastal Highway. The brewing company requested a beer, wine and liquor license with additional permission for the off-site sale of alcohol.
While retail off-sale privileges can be tough to talk the board into, especially in the already heavily served Ocean City area, the brewing company’s angle was that all of the beer, wine and liquor they would sell retail would be under their own brand and impossible to get anywhere else. This would include 22 varieties of beer, six wines and three liquors.
Like Yellow Submarine, the brewing company also faced opposition from a nearby condominium, in this case the Marisol.
“The condominium has concerns about retail sales at this location,” said representative John Seipp.
While the brewing company would include a full-service restaurant as well as Ocean City’s only brewery, Seipp explained that Marisol was mainly concerned with how alcoholic off-sale would increase traffic in the area, a worry shared by Marisol General Manager Monica Whitehead. Seipp also felt that, while the brewing company has received support from the town of Ocean City for the brewery and restaurant portions, that they did not fairly represent their intentions for retail.
“It seems like it has kind of morphed into something else at this point,” said Seipp.
But the brewing company made no secret of its intentions for a retail component whether that retail be merchandising or something more, according to attorney Mark Cropper. Cropper was also critical of Marisol for getting into the discussion at the 11th hour, pointing out representatives did not attend most of the brewing company’s early public meetings to make their concerns known.
Furthermore, he questioned the validity of their concerns regarding a traffic increase to the neighborhood, due to alcohol off-sale since the area is commercially zoned.
“I want to re-establish that much of the testimony given by representatives of Marisol really is a complaint about commercial use on a commercially-zoned piece of property that’s been used for commercial purpose for as long as I’ve been alive,” he said.
When asked if having those off-sale privileges were important to his business, owner Josh Shores asserted that it “wouldn’t succeed without them.” Cropper clarified that his client would need to make a massive overhaul to the business plan if the privilege of off-sale was not granted.
Still, the board was uncomfortable with the retail aspect, especially since the area around the brewery already has a large amount of to-go beer and wine available, even if that off-sale was not of the unique brewing company brand beer, wine or liquor.
“It’s clear with the amount of beer, wine and liquor to go in the city, notwithstanding that there’s a difference, that no one is going to die of thirst from not being able to get a bottle of liquor or a bottle of wine,” Esham said.
The BLC denied off-sale alcohol, with the exception of growlers, which are allowable by state law, at the location as well as a game room that Shores requested in his application. The board did, however, grant a full Class B beer, wine and liquor license to the restaurant to be located on site. Esham took a moment to stress that the board’s decision would not impact the brewery aspect of the operation, as that was something regulated by the state, not the county.