Anti-BYOB group forms (UPDATE)

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Committee to Preserve Ocean City hopes to send a message that BYOB is bad for OC

OCEAN CITY — Looking to counteract the proponents of the Bring Your Own Bottle initiative, the Committee to Preserve Ocean City recently formed to take on the opposition.

According to a press release sent out by the organization Monday, March 19, “The goal of the Committee to Preserve Ocean City is to educate the voters to the potential problems with the proposed ordinance, and the pitfalls of BYOB.”

“We’re very passionate about preserving Ocean City,” said Ken Cooper, the organization’s treasurer. “We’re going to be very vocal. There are a lot of people out there who do not want to see BYOB in Ocean City. The proponents have been out there, we need to be out there, too. We’re launching a website and we’re getting a campaign together. There’s been a lot of interest.”

Other board members are Chairman Andrew Fasy and Vice Chairman and secretary Carl Scheetz.

Proponents of BYOB, “Friends of Shop, Dine and Play in Ocean City” were able to secure enough valid signatures to place the BYOB question on the May 8 ballot. If the initiative passes, then BYOB will be permissible in Ocean City.

The island has long been a dry town. Residents are permitted to drink and serve alcohol in their homes or on their porches, but consumption of alcohol is not permitted on public property, including restaurants. With the initiative on the ballot, Cooper said some have been concerned that the proponents of BYOB have the momentum.

“We started to get calls, ‘What are you doing about this? How can we stop it?’” said Cooper. “So we decided to form a group to fight this.”

Cooper, a local Realtor, said he believes BYOB could severely affect real estate value on the island.

“The statistics show this, Ocean City has the third highest ratables in New Jersey,” he said. “Higher than any town surrounding us, and that’s because we are unique, because we are dry, and because our founding fathers had the foresight to preserve this island, to prevent it from becoming like Atlantic City. Our family image comes from not having alcohol.”

“This drastic change to the community’s image – for questionable benefits – is ill-advised, and could have the unintended result of actually reducing business by alienating our core demographic: families. This is clearly a case of the risks outweighing any potential reward,” Fasy said.

Cooper said he is “vehemently opposed to BYOB.”

“For 133 years we have cultivated the family image that was created especially for us. Our founding fathers wanted this, they created this wonderful community and what we have is working. We think this is a really bad decision for Ocean City. It’s like taking Mickey Mouse’s ears away at Disney World. Why we would want to even try this is beyond me. It’s very upsetting.”

Cooper said the city is taking a big chance for just a few people.

“Restaurant owners are behind this; it’s very self-serving. BYOB is not going to help the restaurants,” he said. “The reason so many restaurants closed is because of real estate values. I know people who sold out who said, ‘I could work another 20 years for a million dollars or I could sell my business, cash out and move on for a million dollars, why would I keep going?’ That’s what happened.

Ocean City had many good restaurants, and they packed them in. There was Hogate’s and Chris’ and Simms and Watsons,” he recalled.

Cooper said his organization feels that the ordinance as written is potentially flawed. The committee points out that this new ordinance has no limit on the amount of alcohol that can be consumed in public and no enforcement mechanisms. Cooper said he fears that the restaurants will not be able to control the consumption of alcohol by patrons.

“Now we have no regulations, so you could have a group of 20-something college kids come in a restaurant with any amount of beer or wine with them; and how do you enforce anything? Who enforces it? The waitress? The owners? How do you get them out if they drink too much? There are more questions than answers. This has not been well thought out or planned,” Cooper said.

Proponents for BYOB pulled a similar initiative from the ballot last August after procuring sufficient signatures because the initiative limited the quantity of alcohol a patron may bring into a restaurant. State law says a municipality may permit BYOB or not, but if it does, it cannot regulate it. Proponents feared a challenge to the ordinance as it was written.

Now the ordinance, as currently proposed, does not allow BYOB on the boardwalk.

“So they take the boardwalk out, thinking that will help sell it,” Cooper said. “So how is that fair to boardwalk restaurants, or is the thinking that, ‘We’ll get it passed, then worry about the boardwalk,’ like a wink to the boardwalk merchants, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get to you next?’”

Cooper and his organization believe the city could be exposed to lawsuits defending this ordinance. Such a lawsuit, he said, could result in the boardwalk restaurants again being included in the BYOB ordinance, a prospect he believes would make the proposal even more unacceptable to residents.

“The issue is negative and it’s tearing the community apart,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of people on the fence; undecided. We’re going to reach out to them. We want to make sure everyone knows the ramifications of supporting this. I’m very proud of what we are doing, we’re trying to save, and preserve what our founders fathers envisioned.”

“Residents, second homeowners, business owners, and visitors have been clear in their opposition to BYOB in Ocean City,” Fasy added. “Our sense is the vast majority believe as we do…that allowing the public consumption of alcohol in Ocean City fundamentally alters the family-friendly atmosphere that Ocean City has become synonymous with and that our economy is inextricably linked to. The Committee to Preserve Ocean City seeks to bring the community together to defeat this ordinance.”

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