REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — A police raid on restaurants with patios, many of which cater to the LGBT community, has business owners up in arms.
The Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners held a meeting on the topic on Oct. 15 in a room packed with business owners, residents and members of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Rehoboth.
The issue came to a head shortly after Labor Day, when at the request of City Commissioner Stan Mills, 12 establishments were raided by police for allegedly not complying with existing patio rules. Bill Shields, owner of Aqua Grill, an outdoor bar and restaurant popular with the LGBT community, was arrested.
“I was so upset that night that I cried,” Shields told the Delaware Coast Press.
The criminal charges are based on a 1991 ordinance that had rarely been enforced. The ordinance makes it illegal to serve alcohol or food on a patio after 10 p.m., and requires that all patrons be removed from the outdoor patios by 11 p.m.
Of the town’s 34 restaurants with outdoor patios, just 12 were targeted, leading some to accuse police of singling out gay establishments. The police chief denies those claims.
Rehoboth’s two openly gay commissioners, Pat Coluzzi and Dennis Barbour, after meeting with leaders of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street, offered a resolution to change the patio ordinances. Barbour tried to change the entire ordinance but it was clear that the commissioners wanted to address both noise complaints and patio ordinances. Coluzzi offered a motion that would decriminalize the patio offenses, but the motion failed by a vote of 4-3.
Barbour vowed to keep the subject on the commission’s agenda.
— Peter Schott