November 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay commissioners in Rehoboth call for easing patio restrictions

Two gay members of the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners are supporting a proposal to ease a little-noticed outdoor patio ordinance that led to the Sept. 11 arrest of a gay bar owner for keeping his outdoor seating area open after 11 p.m.

The “citation” arrest of Aqua Grill co-owner Bill Shields and the owners or managers of two straight restaurants on the same night on a criminal charge of violating the Rehoboth Beach patio ordinance has prompted critics to call the police action an embarrassment to the town. Some are calling the incident “patio-gate.”

Rehoboth Police Chief Keith Banks disputed media reports that police raided 12 restaurants or bars on the night of the three arrests in connection with the patio ordinance. He said the establishments were “visited” by officers after town inspectors informed them days earlier that the town would begin enforcing an ordinance that had largely gone unenforced for a decade or longer.

The ordinance requires restaurants or bars to stop serving food or drinks on their patio at 10 p.m. and to vacate the patio by 11 p.m.

The charge against Shields and the owner of one of the other two establishments was dropped days later. Banks said police discovered that Aqua’s operating permit included a possible waiver of the ordinance’s requirement that restaurant or bar patios be vacated by 11 p.m. He said police dropped the charge against the owner of one of the other establishments cited after learning it was exempt from the ordinance under a grandfather clause for places in business prior to 1991.

Rehoboth officials said they began enforcing the ordinance after receiving complaints by residents about noise coming from people sitting or standing in the patios.

Gay Rehoboth Commissioners Dennis Barbour and Pat Coluzzi have joined other commissioners in calling for reclassifying the ordinance into a civil rather than criminal statute.

At a Nov. 8 workshop meeting held by the commission, Barbour called for eliminating the grandfather clause and shifting enforcement to establishments found to be causing excessive noise rather than linking it to patios themselves. The commission, which serves as the town’s legislative body, took no action at the meeting. Barbour said he would continue to push for a change in the ordinance.

Banks said the three people arrested in September were given a citation during the police visit and were not taken into custody or detained. However, he said an officer finger printed them with a portable, hand-held ink pad. The remaining person arrested in the incident pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Gay activist and Rehoboth resident Peter Schott said most of the establishments named by authorities as past violators of the patio or a separate noise ordinance are patronized by gays or lesbians, even though most are not considered gay establishments. The Blue Moon, a popular gay bar and restaurant in Rehoboth, is among the establishments exempt from the patio law through its grandfather clause.

Steve Elkins, president of Camp Rehoboth, an LGBT organization, said he did not believe police or Rehoboth officials were targeting the establishments because of the perceived sexual orientation of their customers.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Why does the Blade cover such nonsense? Rehoboth Beach is a pathetic little town that is home to a handful of tired old queens. Who cares? Coverage of LGBT events in other nearby cities and towns would be far more interesting to this reader.

    • you obviously don’t expect to be an old queen one day, just a pissy fag today. Grow up and realize your coccoon of D.C. includes all of us around the country. The world exists far past D.C.’s boundaries….

  • You are a fool.

    Rehoboth has decades of pro-gay history which has included generations of Gay men and Lesbians from DC and our area.

    Don’t forget little boy… you will be a tired on queen one day too.

  • While Officials might not be targeting Gay establishments, it is likely that the complaintants were.

  • Rehoboth is an internationally known LGBT resort- so the Blade should be covering this news. It is a great place to vacation and for many people to live.The issue is that some Rehoboth Commissioners and the longtime Mayor apparently would like for Rehoboth to return to the sleepy little town it was 50 years ago. With condo’s in town going for a minimum of $500,000 and houses near the beach in the millions, that won’t happen. The people buying today and those young men and women renting shares for the summer want a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. (and anyone spending a weekend in Rehoboth this past summer will vouch for all the young people there.)

    Rehoboth isn’t as wild as the Dewey beach scene (which is more of a straight scene)and it won’t become that if the town leaders recognize that the business community in Rehoboth is responsible and wants to work with residents. But that is all residents not just the few who bought a home a block from the downtown business District and then complain about noise. They are like those who buy a home next to an airport and then complain about the noise of planes taking off and landing.

    If the current commissioners, and I am not speaking of all of them, only a few and the Mayor, can’t get along with the business community it is time to vote them out of office. You can’t stop change, you just have to be able to recognize how to control it for the best interests of everyone, and clearly the current Mayor doesn’t know how to do that.

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