BYOB is back, group seeks May 8 vote

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OCEAN CITY — The petitions are circulating; Bring Your Own Bottle, “BYOB” is back, but this time without the boardwalk.

Hoping to put the issue before voters on the May 8 municipal ballot, a committee of petitioners has again formed. The committee must collect 351 signatures – 10 percent of the 3,510 voters who went to the polls in the 2011 General Assembly election – by early March.

“The petition has been reissued,” said Bill McGinnity, who owns Cousin’s Restaurant and serves as a vice president of the Ocean City Restaurant Association.

McGinnity spearheaded a failed attempt to bring BYOB to the voters on the Nov. 8 ballot when it was discovered that the proposed ordinance, as written, could be challenged in court because it spelled out a specific amount of alcohol. On the last try, petitioners chose to limit patrons to 750 ml of wine per person or a six-pack split between two people.

The last petition, which was pulled before it got to the ballot to avoid the possible court challenge, also included the boardwalk during the off-season.

This time around, McGinnity said they changed the proposed ordinance to make it legal.

“We did not include a specific amount of alcohol, we made that change to make it legal,” he said. Patrons will not be limited to a specific quantity of beer or wine.

To make the proposed ordinance more palatable to voters, they also excluded the Boardwalk. Wine or beer will not be permitted in qualified restaurants island wide, but not in restaurants fronting the Boardwalk.

“Everybody that we talked to, the Boardwalk was an issue,” he said. “No one wanted to see it on the boardwalk. Everybody said that was the biggest issue; that we were trying to get beer and wine on the boardwalk. That was a big concern, so we eliminated it.”

McGinnity said he is hopeful that a change will be made in the state law that prohibits municipalities from restricting limits to the amount of alcohol. In the meantime, they will move forward.

“This is something that affects every community in New Jersey,” he said. “What we are proposing is strictly limited to beer and wine, there are no spirits involved.”

McGinnity said the five petitioners – Jack Ball, Sharon Hoffman, Joann Bernardini, Amy Repici and Eleanor Parker – began circulating the petitions on Friday morning.

The process, he said, would be similar to the 2011 attempt to bring BYOB to the island.

“Restaurants that want to serve wine or beer would still have to be qualified,” McGinnity said.

A qualified establishment would have to be licensed by the Department of Health, have a regularly employed wait staff of at least one, have tables with coverings and not be reserved primarily for private functions.

Outdoor seating would have to be at least five feet from the public’s right of wary and be separated by visual screening at least five feet high. Only unopened containers would be permitted.

BYOB would be limited 2-11 p.m. Coolers would not be permitted. Individual restaurants would decide to allow BYOB or not.

Founded by ministers as a Christian seaside resort in 1879, Ocean City has, through deed restrictions and municipal laws, remained the dry town its founders envisioned.

The BYOB issue remains controversial on the island, but proponents of BYOB say allowing patrons to bring their own beer and wine to island eateries will enhance the island’s appeal, attracting visitors in the off-season.

Others say the resorts historic dry-town image attracts visitors and keeps them coming back.

“We feel that allowing BYOB will not change that,” McGinnity said.

The BYOB proponents have formed a Political Action Committee, PAC, “Friends of Shop, Dine and Play in Ocean City,” McGinnity said.

“We want to promote island living and the community,” McGinnity said. “This effort is about the whole island, not just the restaurants. We want people to come here year-round, not just the summer. We want to support the business community.

“Timing wise, this works out very well with the effort to re-brand the downtown,” he said. “We have a similar purpose, to attract people here on a year-round basis. It works very well with this effort to re-brand the downtown.

“It’s all about bringing people to the island,” he said.  “It’s not just the restaurants that want this, a lot of other people want this, too, so we are making it inclusive, shop, work and play in Ocean City.”

McGinnity said the petitions would be available at Captain Bob’s at 55th Street and Simpson Avenue, The Chatterbox on Ninth Street and Central Avenue and Who’s on First? at First Street and Asbury Avenue or from the petitioners.

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