OCEAN CITY – Having a beer (legally) on the beach may seem like a minor issue, but one city councilman says he’s considering trying to take the first of many steps to provide an amenity that many deem to be a simple pleasure.
At a recent Recreation and Parks Committee meeting, Councilman Jim Hall brought up the argument that all other major resorts allow the sale of alcohol and food on the beach, but Ocean City, with the exception of two plots of beach, does not.
“What’s the difference between sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean and having a burger and a beer and sitting under your umbrella and having a burger and a beer,” Hall queried. “This could make it legal and taxable and quite frankly it would just be a really nice thing to provide to our visitors.”
There are currently two places in Ocean City that allow the sale and consumption of alcohol on the beach. One of which is the Castle in the Sand Hotel and the other is the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel.
Those two properties essentially own a portion of the beach that sits in front of their oceanfront properties and were granted an extension of their property lines by a public easement, which were instilled during the town’s major beach replenishment, so that they can sell alcohol and food on their land, said City Solicitor Guy Ayres.
“The only exception that we ever had was last year’s air show,” said Ayres. “Basically, unless you have the right to the property, you can’t sell alcohol or food on the beach because the beach is town owned. If the town grants someone permission, than that is allowable, but with the exception of the Air Show, that hasn’t happened.”
Ayres went on to explain that for any change to occur a few things needed to happen.
“If they wanted to change the rules, they would first have to change the code by creating a new ordinance and secondly, they would have to get permission from the Board of License Commissioners,” said Ayres.
The Board of License Commissioners is the group that entertains applications for and has the final decision on liquor licenses in Worcester County.
“I don’t want to speak for the board, but it has been my experience that they are not advocates of any sale or consumption of alcohol on the beach,” said Ayres. “In the past, they’ve cited public intoxication and consumption by minors as the two biggest reasons.”
Hall acknowledged the board’s stance in the past, but argued that maybe it was time to at least ask.
“The worst that could happen is they say ‘no’, because I’m not sure we’ve ever asked before,” said Hall. “The two places that have alcohol on the beach have had little to no problems in years of providing that amenity and extending to other properties would be no problem in my opinion.”
April Payne, liquor license administrator for the Board of License Commissioners, said the board has taken a “hard line” in the past on the subject, but it would be willing to at least entertain the idea.
“The board is always open to meeting with the town of Ocean City and hearing all sides of the matter, said Payne. “If in fact the town wanted to pursue the idea of altering the rules, the board would be willing to sit down with them.”
City Manager Dennis Dare said if a change were made, the town would certainly have a firm grip on the provided amenity in order to follow the law and keep the traditionalists of the “family resort” mentality happy as well.
“There would have to be some sort of franchise involved that would give the city some sort of control,” said Dare. “The one area that will be tricky is the beach in front of the Boardwalk. If someone were to bring a beer from the beach onto the Boardwalk, it becomes an open container violation and then something very innocent turns into a sort of nightmare for our visitors when the authorities get involved.”
Still, Hall says he will try to get support from his colleagues on the council to at least ask the question.
“If nothing is ventured, then nothing will ever be gained,” he said.