OCEAN CITY — Even if this city founded by Methodist ministers approves the consumption of alcohol at restaurants, there will be rules governing how much and what patrons can drink, and in some cases, what door they bring the booze through.
The group pushing for a bring-your-own-bottle policy here turned in a petition Thursday afternoon to city Clerk Linda MacIntyre that outlines those rules.
While the 583-signature petition still must be certified by t he clerk, a process that could take as long as 20 days, the group is hoping to bring the BYOB issue to a vote Nov. 8.
If the petition is approved and the vote is held, voters would be asked whether to repeal a 1984 ordinance — the latest version of the century-old ban — making it unlawful for a restaurant to permit any person to possess or consume alcoholic beverages.
Still, BYOB advocates stress they are not in favor of unregulated alcohol consumption in this dry town that has never issued liquor licenses for bars, restaurants or package stores. The petitioners propose a new ordinance, that, while permitting BYOB, sets limits on the type and quantity of alcohol that can be consumed and the establishments that can allow it.
“Things won’t change that much. We’ll still be labeled a dry town, more than most. None of us want bars and liquor stores, so that is not the next step. I would fight against that,” said Aimee Repici, one of the five petitioners and the owner of the Chatterbox Restaurant on Central Avenue.
The new ordinance would not allow hard liquor. It allows only wine, wine coolers, beer and other malt beverages. A restaurant patron would be limited to one 750-milliliter bottle of wine. Two patrons would be limited to a six-pack of beer or of wine coolers.
Consumption would be limited to the hours of 2 to 11 p.m., so there would be no drinking with breakfast or an early lunch.
Whether to allow alcohol is up to individual restaurant owners. Restaurant owners could ban it or impose stricter rules than the city. The ordinance also limits the types of restaurants that can allow alcohol. It must be a “qualified retail dining establishment” that has tables and a waiter. There are many other restrictions, including special ones for Boardwalk restaurants, which must have entrances and exits off the Boardwalk, to be used by BYOB patrons, if alcohol is served during the summer season.
“Coming in the backdoor with alcohol; it’s a hokey ordinance,” said Ken Cooper, a local real estate agent who strongly opposes BYOB.
Cooper said most of the restaurants on the Boardwalk don’t want BYOB because they want a fast turnover. Alcohol consumption often results in patrons lingering after a meal.
Cooper said the city’s alcohol restrictions and its reputation as a family resort have helped keep real estate prices relatively strong here. He is not opposed to bringing the issue to a vote, though. That is the Democratic process, he said.
“I respect everybody’s right to vote, but I think it will be voted down. I think it’s a bad idea. Ocean City has built a tradition without alcohol and has 133 years of good marketing that has worked out well for the town.”
The city was founded by Methodist ministers in 1879, with the founders limiting land sales to those agreeing to uphold strict regulations against liquor.
Repici, calling Ocean City “the wettest dry town in America,” said people here still drink, but when they dine out they have to drive over a bridge to another town. She said BYOB would be a convenience for the patrons.
“I think it will raise the caliber of the restaurants up a bit. It’s not going to change that much,” Repici said.
MacIntyre’s job will be to make sure the 583 signatures on the petition are from people registered to vote here. She said they need 498 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the 4,976 voters from the last New Jersey Assembly election, to get the ballot question on the ballot. At one point the petitioners sought a special election on the issue, which required signatures totaling 15 percent of the last Assembly election vote, but they have since shelved that idea.
Sept. 2 is the deadline for ballot questions for Nov. 8. MacIntyre said she was working on validating signatures Friday.
“I have 20 days according to state statutes. Will I need 20 days? I hope not. Once I reply, they will have an additional 10 days to gather more signatures, so they’re cutting it real close,” MacIntyre said.
Contact Richard Degener: