OCEAN CITY — In yet another example of a resort business adjusting and adapting to a post-COVID-19 world, resort planners this week signed off on a permanent outdoor dining area for a north-end restaurant.
Throughout the pandemic, Ocean City allowed businesses to create temporary outdoor seating areas to meet state restrictions on capacity and distancing, for example. As a result, many businesses came up with creative ways to expand their outdoor seating capacity and more than a few have decided to make those outdoor areas permanent.
Such was the case this week when the Ocean City Planning Commission had before it a request from the Taphouse Tavern at the north end of a shopping center at 138th Street to construct an outdoor seating area covered with a pergola and landscaped with palm trees along the north side of the business adjacent to the public sidewalk. The expanded outdoor seating area will be comprised of nearly 800 square feet and will fit into the property’s footprint with room to spare.
The additional outdoor seating area for the Taphouse Tavern does not exceed the square footage of the existing restaurant, so there is no impact on parking for the establishment. In other cases earlier this year, making temporary outdoor seating areas permanent did require some special exceptions for parking, but that was not the case with the request before the commission on Tuesday. Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy said the request was not a major departure from the existing establishment and the outdoor seating area would meet the demand from guests for more outdoor opportunities.
“It’s very minor,” she said. “It follows a recent path of expanded outdoor dining. Over the years, we’ve seen an increased demand for outdoor dining, but with the COVID pandemic over the last year, the demand has really increased.”
Gordy said the site plan request followed a recent post-COVID pattern to make outdoor dining areas permanent.
“This is a wish to accommodate some patrons’ demand for more outdoor dining,” she said. “It’s similar to some of the other requests you have reviewed and approved already. The recommendation from staff is to approve the site plan as presented to meet the needs and desires of the business’s guests.”
The planning commission ultimately signed off on the site plan without attaching any formal conditions, although they did make some recommendations. For example, Planning Commissioner Peck Miller expressed a desire for careful policing for blowing trash, not just for Taphouse Tavern specifically, but all new outdoor dining areas in general.
“With the outdoor dining areas being added, the amount of outdoor trash blowing around has become more prevalent I’ve noticed in some areas,” he said. “Whatever they put in, I’d like to make sure they have ample trash receptacles and police that outdoor area morning and night.”
Planning Commission chair Pam Buckley said the design of the new outdoor seating area at Taphouse Tavern was attractive, but made some suggestions on the landscaping for the project.
“I’d like to see you get as much landscaping in there as possible,” she said. “I know the palm trees look wonderful, but they’re not going to last you through the winter. You might want something a little hardier out there.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan for the Taphouse Tavern’s proposed 756-square-foot outdoor seating area.