August 4, 2016 at 8:26 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Rehoboth mayor drops plan to stop liquor sales in bars at 11 p.m.
Rehoboth Beach, gay news, Washington Blade, liquor

Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper has dropped a proposal to halt liquor sales in new bars/restaurants at 11 p.m. in the popular resort town. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Rehoboth Beach, Del., Mayor Sam Cooper said he has withdrawn a controversial proposal that called for requiring newly opened restaurants in the popular beach town that are larger than 2,500 square feet in size to stop serving alcoholic beverages at 11 p.m.

Cooper told the Washington Blade in a telephone interview on Wednesday that he introduced the proposal earlier this year as part of a legislative package that calls for other changes in the Rehoboth regulations for restaurants.

“There was no interest in it so I dropped it,” he said in referring to the Rehoboth City Commission’s reaction to the 11 p.m. restriction. The Commission serves as the city’s legislative body.

Under Delaware state law, most establishments that serve alcoholic beverages must also serve food and are licensed as restaurants. All of the Rehoboth establishments except one that have a mostly LGBT clientele are licensed as restaurants, including the Blue Moon and Aqua.

The Double L, a gay bar located just outside the Rehoboth city limits, is one of the few establishments in the area licensed as a tavern and isn’t required to serve food.

Cooper’s initial proposal to change the time when restaurants must stop serving alcohol from 1 a.m. to 11 p.m. was limited to establishments that would have opened after the law took effect. But existing restaurant owners expressed concern that the new restriction could impact them.

They noted that Cooper’s proposal included language requiring the 11 p.m. halting of liquor sales and consumption for all new Certificates of Compliance, which are a type of permit required for both newly opened establishments and existing establishments that make “significant” changes. Such changes could include expanding the number of seats for dining or opening a new bar area within the restaurant.

Most restaurant and bar industry observers have said that banning the sale of alcoholic beverages at a certain hour is tantamount to forcing the establishment to close at that hour because it isn’t economically feasible to stay open for the sale of soft drinks.

Cooper said his reason for introducing the proposal was to address what he considers the ongoing concerns about excessive noise and disturbances associated with restaurants that operate drinking establishments in the late evening hours.

“This was an effort to address some of the concerns with the existing code,” Cooper said. “Clearly the [existing] code was intended to limit the size of establishments so that they don’t become formula type restaurants – to keep them small along with the scale of the city of Rehoboth.”

Cooper added, “And to keep them from becoming late night issues with a bunch of people over drinking and turning out and causing havoc.”

Tim Regan, co-owner of the Blue Moon, said he and most other restaurant owners believe city officials should take steps to enforce existing laws restricting noise and other disturbances for the few restaurants where problems occur.

“He is proposing things that impact everyone instead of just addressing the few cases of disorderly behavior at problem restaurants,” Regan said.

Cooper and others familiar with his proposed restaurant ordinance said messages circulating on social media, including Facebook, that the Rehoboth Commission was scheduled to vote on the 11 p.m. liquor restriction on Monday, Aug. 8, were incorrect.  Cooper said concerns raised by some restaurant representatives that he might bring back the 11 p.m. restriction at a later date were also untrue.

The Rehoboth Commission is scheduled to meet on Aug. 8 in a “workshop” session in which no votes can be taken.

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

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