As the days grow shorter and temperatures dip toward winter, it might not seem like an urgent time to contemplate the continuation of outdoor music and relaxed regulations for outdoor dining. Yet, it’s the perfect time for Surf City officials to consider the pros and cons as Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order providing restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries special dispensation to serve customers al fresco ends Nov. 30.
Mayor Francis Hodgson said the problem with outdoor music is “amplification,” while also acknowledging there are other challenges to keeping it going once Murphy’s order ends next Wednesday. Borough officials first lifted their restrictions on outdoor music in August 2020, citing the pandemic. They have extended it monthly, hearing the pros and cons from those in favor of continuing it and those who believe boosted music should be moved back to where it belongs: indoors.
“Musicians like to turn things up,” Hodgson said, adding the “boom, boom, boom” of music can be heard as cars drive by the municipal building. “This is the problem we have to deal with, and we are.”
Additionally, parking requirements, like other municipal codes, have, for the most part, been relaxed during the length of the public health emergency that was declared nearly three years ago. While spaces in parking areas have been used for outdoor dining tables in a variety of LBI locations, the situation has exacerbated an Island-wide problem of not enough parking in general.
“Everything is inadequate in the summer – everything,” Hodgson said. “These are the things we have to deal with.”
Resident Susan Gilbert said she lives a few houses from the Surf City Yacht Club and during the spring and fall when the club is used as a wedding venue and her windows are open, she can hear the music.
“I know all the words to ‘Celebration,’” she said. “It’s my choice to live where I live. So, I can’t regulate what goes on at the yacht club. I enjoy it.”
Gilbert said she grew up in a summer resort where there was “always outdoor dining and music, probably not as loud as they are now.”
Still, she said Surf City is a resort and people come to town to relax, enjoy themselves and have fun.
“Outside dining fits in wonderfully,” Gilbert said.
Prior to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Surf City had a process and procedure in place for businesses that wanted to offer outdoor dining, according to Councilman Peter Hartney, who also chairs the borough’s land use board.
“We had just started outdoor dining,” he said. “When the pandemic hit, everything moved outdoors. With the governor’s executive order set to expire at the end of the month, we have the opportunity to go back to the way we had it prior to the pandemic.”
Hartney said a majority of food establishments in the borough had already received permission to relocate a percentage of their indoor seats outside for customers who wished to dine al fresco. The number of seats inside and outside the establishment cannot exceed the total number of seats permitted by the land use board. Officials relaxed the latter limitation during the pandemic, understanding some customers wouldn’t be comfortable eating indoors even after restrictions were lifted.
“I know one of the restaurants I was at became so overwhelmed that they came out and said they can’t seat any more (tables) until the kitchen can catch up,” Hodgson said.
— Gina G. Scala