Pinehurst outdoor dining ban at odds with businesses

PINEHURST – The Village of Pinehurst has enacted a ban on outdoor street dining, running counter to policy goals pushed by the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Expanded outdoor dining has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement between Republican legislative leaders and the Democratic governor, with outdoor options first executed by via executive order from Cooper and later codified into state law.

A memo circulated during the Village of Pinehurst’s Jan. 11 work session following the regularly scheduled council meeting would end the ability of restaurants to serve food and alcohol outdoors on property adjacent to their businesses.

A memo from Assistant Village Manager Jeff Batton said that the Village Council needed to take action as required by state law.

“For approximately 18 months, the Village has allowed Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) on-premise permit holders to serve food and alcohol on property that is not part of the permittee’s licensed premises. The intended purpose of the legislation was to help restaurants make up lost indoor seating capacity due to COVID social distancing requirements,” part of the memo read.

“The temporary statute left the determination of whether to allow the extension of the ABC permit up to the local government having jurisdiction.”

The memo outlined three options, which included a full ban, an extension of the current policy, or not permitting the use of “public property” for the outdoor seating.

The memo also said that the adjacent street was only being used by three establishments, one of which is no longer in business.

The Village Council appears to have chosen to enact the ban on street dining based on an email the Dugan’s Pub owner posted to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The posted email posted reads, “The Village Council has elected to end the on-street dining and beverage provision on April 1, 2022. You may continue to use the street on nights and Sundays for food and service until that time.”

“I was looking for a glimmer of hope on regaining business this year. However, an email from Pinehurst Village Council is not helping by doing away with outdoor dining April 1st. Why exactly? It’s not fair to other retailers being the reason. They close at 5, close weekends,” Dugan’s Pub owner Alan Riley said in a Jan. 13 post.

A day later, he added, “We are not supposed to profit off the outdoor parking spots. Let me say this, I haven’t turned a profit in 2 years. Part of my owning a restaurant allows us to support the Food Bank and the 800 or so kids of Back Pack Pals. If we are not here anymore then our community work won’t be either,” he added.

Also affected by the decision is Drum & Quill, owned by former council member Kevin Drum, which has been temporarily closed during January making improvements such as sanding outdoor tables, redesigning the kitchen space, and adding sneeze guards on the bar area.

The addition of outdoor dining options has helped businesses stay alive as over 110,000 restaurants have closed nationwide since 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association.

A Dec. 2021 WRAL story says that outdoor dining has been critical to helping establishments survive and adapt to consumer demands.

As an example, in the winter, many restaurants across the state added heaters, fire pits, and other measures to keep outdoor dining an option in cold weather.

The memo also appears to blame the affected restaurants for their location.

“Fairness as a consideration recognizes a current imbalance in business utilization of public property. Some restaurants, like Lisi, Villagio, and Villager Deli have selected locations and invested in spaces in order to have outdoor seating options without relying on public space,” one section reads.

Also during the Village Council’s work session, the council members elected to not pursue a “social district” option where alcoholic beverages could be possessed and consumed within a defined geographic area.

The reasoning, according to staff, is that after checking with Southern Pines and Aberdeen, neither of them are considering establishing a social district, so the village of Pinehurst should not either.

The staff memo said a similar measure was enacted on a temporary basis during the 2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens.

The regularly scheduled meeting did not include discussion of either item that was part of the work session.

During the meeting, Mayor Jeff Strickland delivered a lengthy COVID-19 update and said a determination would be made if the council meetings needed to be made virtual again due to the pandemic and council member Lydia Boesch updated the council on the status of a Donald Ross statue that is currently on display downtown.

Miriam Chu, a Pinehurst resident, volunteered to fix several knicks and cuts, and made new glasses for the statue. Boesch called it a “miracle makeover” and said the statue would be in great shape for the next 30 years.

The next scheduled meeting of the village council is set for Jan. 25.

By Matt Mercer

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