Ocean City —
A series of public meetings will be held to discuss the issue of Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) and a public referendum on the May 8 ballot permitting patrons to bring wine or beer to local restaurants.
Friends of Shop, Dine and Play in Ocean City, a political action group backing the ordinance, scheduled public meetings at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at the Chatterbox Restaurant, 500 9th St.; 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25 at Cousin’s Restaurant, 104 Asbury Ave., and 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 2 at the residence of Jane Custer, 3843 Central Ave.
The issue is controversial for Ocean City, a dry town where municipal statutes prohibit the sale or public consumption of alcohol.
Jeff Sutherland, attorney and member of political action committee Friends of Shop, Dine and Play in Ocean City, said the meetings allow the public to ask questions about the ordinance and BYOB.
“We’re really doing it as an informational thing to let people make the decision and vote. Were not trying to browbeat anybody. A lot of the opposition they have fears what could happen to the city. That’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it, but it’s an opinion. We’re trying to put down facts,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland said the group’s website (www.sdpoc.bbnow.org) contains frequently asked questions and cites case law relating to BYOB.
“I don’t think there’s a town where they added BYOB and things went bad. We’re just trying to keep it positive and give as much information as we can to let people make an educated decision.”
The ordinance voters will decide on in May allows patrons to bring only wine and malt liquor beverages to qualified retail dining establishments between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. Qualified retail dining establishments, according to the ordinance, are licensed by the Health Department for the sale of food, employs a wait staff of at least one waiter, has tables with table coverings and whose staff are not confined to a counter.
The new ordinance omits the Boardwalk as a possible location for allowing BYOB.
Another citizen group, the Committee to Preserve Ocean City, is against the ordinance and claims allowing BYOB would tarnish Ocean City’s image as a family seashore resort by allowing the public consumption of alcohol.
The group attests that barring the Boardwalk from the ordinance is an unfair restriction and Boardwalk restaurant owners could successfully sue the city to have the ordinance changed.
But Sutherland said restaurants on the Boardwalk would first have to file suit seeking to allow them to have BYOB. He added there isn’t a legal cause of action based on discrimination against a municipality for regulating businesses.
Sutherland cites case law from the New Jersey Appellate Division, Club 35 vs. the City of Sayreville affirming this.
According to the court, “The statutory language does not indicate any intention on the part of the Legislature to require a municipality to treat all [BYOB] premises in the same way.... It is more likely that the legislature intended each municipality to make rational distinctions relevant to local conditions and the welfare of its inhabitants and it accordance with its general legislative authority.”
“If a restaurant owner on the Boardwalk has a right somewhere by law to sue a town saying they’re being hurt, then why couldn’t the owners of every restaurant in Ocean City bring a claim against the city if they feel they’re being hurt by all the surrounding towns? You can’t do that. That’s why you have city councils, referendums and initiatives,” Sutherland said.
If the referendum passes in May, the city council can’t pass an ordinance overriding the referendum for three years.
“It’s going to be a close election, I’m sure,” Sutherland said. “There’s people who are very strong on each side of the issue and there are people in the middle trying to weigh what’s best for the city. We’re not trying to browbeat anyone into voting, we’re trying to give them information they can review on their own to make whatever decision is right for them.”
Rodger Gottlieb, an advisor to the Committee to Preserve Ocean City, said his group is sponsoring an information session and public meeting, the date of which has yet to be finalized.
“It will be an informational session to exchange ideas and information,” Gottlieb said, adding voters can consult the committee’s website (www.nobyob.com) for updates. “I would recommend people who’ve been to the website go back and revisit it because there’s continually new information being posted to it.”
Gottlieb said the Committee to Preserve Ocean City has resonated with voters.
“I think that there is overwhelming support for the committee’s position. That’s certainly the feedback that we’ve gotten,” Gottlieb said.