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Details outlined for outdoor restaurant seating, with or without alcohol being served

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 6/13/18

Middletown restaurants could offer outdoor seating on a public sidewalk from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 1 through Oct. 31, under an ordinance being considered by borough council.

Council had …

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Details outlined for outdoor restaurant seating, with or without alcohol being served

Posted

Middletown restaurants could offer outdoor seating on a public sidewalk from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 1 through Oct. 31, under an ordinance being considered by borough council.

Council had the proposed ordinance drawn up in response to a request for outdoor seating on the sidewalk from Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works at South Union and West Emaus streets.

The ordinance also would establish the process by which restaurants that do not serve alcohol or have a liquor license can also have outdoor seating on the sidewalk — formally referred to as a sidewalk dining area.

Council has approved the ordinance to be advertised starting June 19. Council could adopt the ordinance on July 9.

Council has set the same timetable regarding another proposed change that goes hand in hand with the sidewalk dining ordinance. This change would exempt restaurants with permission for outdoor seating from an existing borough ordinance that bans possession of an open container of alcohol on a public sidewalk.

Council would grant permission for a sidewalk dining area good for one calendar year, under the proposed ordinance. The business would have to seek renewal of the permission for each calendar year.

The permit application fee and annual permit renewal fee are not stated in the proposed ordinance, but would be established by council in a separate resolution.

In addition to permission from council, restaurants wanting to serve alcohol in a sidewalk dining area will also have to obtain permission from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control board.

The LCB will require proof of approval from the municipality — in this case Middletown Borough Council — before the LCB will grant its approval for outdoor seating, according to LCB spokesman Shawn Kelly.

If the restaurant is already licensed by the LCB, then a restaurant seeking approval for outdoor seating would apply to the LCB to extend its existing license into the sidewalk dining area — unless this is already covered by  the existing license, Kelly said. There is no separate license governing a sidewalk dining area.

Applying to the LCB to extend an existing license to cover sidewalk dining costs $220. The license can be extended on a temporary or permanent basis.

If the approval is temporary, the licensee does not have to pay the $220 fee each year to renew the extension, Kelly said.

Businesses most often seek a temporary license extension to coincide with a specific activity or season of the year, such as a social club requesting permission for a beer tent for a summer picnic, Kelly added.

Otherwise, with a permanent extension the business can be held responsible by the LCB for any illegal activity that occurs in the sidewalk dining area any time of the year.

If violations occur within the sidewalk dining area — such as State Police citing the restaurant for serving a minor — these can become grounds for the LCB to challenge renewal of the businesses’ overall license, when the time for renewal comes up, Kelly said.

The proposed borough ordinance says a restaurant approved for sidewalk dining is subject to the borough’s noise ordinance.

Violations of the proposed ordinance would be subject to fines of $50 to $1,000 plus court costs, or imprisonment of up to 30 days.

The borough manager could revoke the permit granted to a restaurant for sidewalk dining, if the business does not adhere to requirements put forth by the borough.

Council can also revoke the permit without cause, according to the proposed ordinance.

If the borough revokes its approval of the sidewalk dining area after the LCB has approved extending the license, the area could be “de-licensed” by the LCB, Kelly said.

He said there is “no set timetable” for how fast the LCB acts on a request from a restaurant for extending its  license to cover sidewalk dining.

The LCB sends out an investigator to inspect the property. A notice of application — a big orange sign — must be posted on the premises for at least 30 days.

“We process these as quickly and as thoroughly as we can,” he said.

The LCB does not track data regarding the number of restaurants and businesses that request a license extension for sidewalk dining, Kelly said.

However outdoor seating has become popular, he said, especially given the spread of craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries in Pennsylvania.

“The PLCB receives many temporary extension requests, especially during the summer,” Kelly said. “A number (of the craft businesses) want to cater to customers and give them new opportunities. Sometimes that includes seating outside.”