Ocean City BYOB question delayed until 2012

Posted: September 01, 2011

Ocean City residents who envisioned a champagne toast at their favorite local boîte this New Year's Eve can forget it.

A referendum on whether to allow BYOB restaurants in the historically dry resort town will not appear on the November ballot. Proponents of the measure withdrew the question this week after city officials alleged that its wording could run afoul of state law.

Supporters of the BYOB drive plan to submit a new petition to have the question placed on the ballot for Ocean City's municipal elections in May.

The proposed measure would have allowed restaurant patrons one 750ml bottle of wine per person or a six-pack of beer for two people. Because state law does not limit the amount of alcohol a patron may bring to a BYOB, the city has no authority to enact such a restriction, municipal officials said.

Proponents of the "bring your own bottle" effort had gathered the required 498 signatures to put the question before voters in November. They can't change its wording without having to start the process over again, said Jeffrey Sutherland, a lawyer representing the group that supports the BYOBs.

Some petitioners, such as Jane Custer, don't want BYOBs without limits.

"We don't want any kegs in here," said Custer, who works part-time at Cousin's Restaurant in Ocean City.

BYOB supporters plan to ask state legislators to change the law to give towns authority to decide for themselves how much booze a person can bring to a BYOB.

"It's something that needs to be addressed and changed to allow municipalities to control what they can do within their boundaries," said Bill McGinnity, vice president of the Ocean City Restaurant Association and partner in Cousin's.

The BYOB question has been controversial in Ocean City, where alcohol sales are prohibited. The restaurant association has argued that local dining establishments can't compete with those in nearby towns where a drink with dinner is permitted. The association does not seek alcohol sales, either in stores or restaurants.

Opponents of the measure have said it would violate tradition and could hurt the city's image as a wholesome, family-friendly vacation spot.

The city council has unanimously opposed the proposal, with or without limits. Council President Michael Allegretto said Thursday that he was glad the measure's legality would be addressed before voters weighed in.

Petitioners will have to gather the signatures again, but they have the addresses of all who signed the previous petition, Sutherland said.

If approved in May, the ordinance would go into effect the next day, he said.

Contact staff writer at jfarrell@phillynews.com, 856-779-3237 or @joellefarrell on Twitter.

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