OCEAN CITY — Opponents of public drinking have formed a political action committee to fight a proposed referendum that would allow bring-your-own-bottle service on the island.

Voters on May 8 will decide whether Ocean City restaurants can permit their patrons to bring beer or wine to the table from 2 to 11 p.m.

Proponents collected enough signatures on a petition to put the question to a public vote.

Now opponents are organizing a campaign against the idea. They formed a political action committee called the Committee to Preserve Ocean City so they can legally raise money for advertising.

“We’re taking a friend and families approach,” organizer Drew Fasy said, adding the group would rely on social networking to persuade neighbors that BYOB is bad for Ocean City.

“Bring-your-own-booze changes the identity and character of the town and as a resort. That’s a big change,” he said.

Opponents created a website, www.nobyob.com, to raise money for the campaign.

“The picture being painted is of a mature couple sharing a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant,” Fasy said. “But there is no limit to how much alcohol you can bring. Next to that nice couple could be four yahoos with a case of beer. And what does that do for their coarse language and behavior? These restaurants and their waitresses are not equipped to deal with drunks.”

When the issue emerged last year, the leadership at the Ocean City Tabernacle urged parishioners to support businesses that opposed BYOB.

Fasy said his group is not making a religious case against alcohol.

“This is not a political issue or a religious issue. It’s a community issue,” he said.

Supporters of the measure say they are working to educate Ocean City voters about the complex history of alcohol on the island.

Ocean City was founded by four Methodist ministers who wanted to establish a religious retreat on the island. They bought the island and incorporated religious tenets into its deeds when the former cow pastures were carved into streets that still bear the names of prominent Methodists.

According to Harold Lee’s “A History of Ocean City,” summer resident Dr. Gilbert Palen opened a beachfront sanitarium for the treatment of alcoholics in the 1890s and ran for mayor of Philadelphia on the Prohibition ticket.

But BYOB proponent Bill McGinnity said the city’s well-known prohibitions addressed the sale or manufacture of alcohol, not the consumption. Then as now, the city’s residents regularly imbibed, he said.

“Until 1984, you could bring a bottle of wine into restaurants in Ocean City,” he said in reference to a measure City Council passed when BYOB was gaining popularity across the region.

McGinnity said in 1958 the city passed an ordinance banning drinking in public places.

“We don’t want to lose the dry-town image of Ocean City. There are no bars. No liquor stores,” he said.

McGinnity said opponents do not plan to wage a sign war on the island. City Council recently clarified a legal point about these issue-oriented signs. Unlike political candidate signs, the city does not limit the amount of time that issue-oriented signs can be posted in people’s yards.

While campaigns for city offices have been known to get abrasive at times, both supporters and opponents of BYOB think the debate will remain civil.

“It’s not going to be a street brawl,” Fasy said.

Contact Michael Miller:

609-463-6712