Delaware has joined a growing number of central Ohio cities looking to establish a district where residents can walk around outside with alcoholic beverages.
A state law passed in 2015 allowed municipalities with more than 35,000 residents at the time of the most-recent census to create Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas, or DORAs, where residents could carry alcohol outside. While Delaware had just under 35,000 residents when 2010 census data were collected, a provision in the law that took effect April 30 gave smaller cities the chance to establish such districts.
City Attorney Darren Shulman said Delaware City Council members need to answer many questions before going forward with a DORA, such as determining its boundaries and plans for public safety and sanitation, and whether it would exist continuously or just for special events.
Shulman said creating a DORA would allow existing businesses with liquor licenses in the district to sell beverages to customers for outdoor consumption. He said it would not give blanket approval for vendors to come into the district and sell alcohol on a temporary basis.
Worthington is one nearby city already moving forward with plans to establish such a district. David McCorkle, Worthington's economic development manager, went before Delaware City Council in June to explain what his city is attempting to accomplish by creating a 4-acre DORA.
"We passed the DORA to allow outdoor dining to spill out into the public right of way on a daily basis, and then we have about four or five events throughout the year where it does become a sip-and-stroll district," he said.
McCorkle said the change had detractors and supporters, but "our merchants were overwhelmingly in support of it." He said city officials are excited to see the results of the first special event within the DORA: Picnic with the Partnership, scheduled Saturday, June 24, in Old Worthington.
The city of Hilliard conducted its first event within a newly created DORA earlier this month.
Delaware Councilman Chris Jones said he could get behind a plan to allow downtown visitors to carry alcohol during special events. He said he's not sure it would be wise to create a permanent "sip-and-stroll" district.
"We're still a college town," he said. "We've got a major university just down the street."
Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said the city could enact the DORA initially for special events and review the results before going any further.
Mayor Carolyn Riggle said the city also needs to determine how to responsibly get rid of the containers used for such a district.
"If these are plastic cups, they need to be recycled, period," she said.
Council was divided on whether residents should be given the OK to carry drinks during the monthly First Friday events held downtown.
Councilman George Hellinger said the events attract many families who may be averse to the idea.
"I know if I still had small kids, I (wouldn't) want my kids around that," he said.
Hellinger said he viewed car shows, marathons and festivals as more-appropriate settings for eased restrictions on alcohol.
Riggle said she is not certain serving alcohol at an event necessarily makes it unfriendly to families.
"You go to Disney World, you go to the zoo, you go to Cedar Point -- you take your family and if you want a beer, you can have a beer," she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller said creating an open-container district does not mean people within the district would be exempt from charges of public intoxication.
"If I'm walking with a beer and I'm acting like a fool because I've had 10, that's a crime whether I'm in (a bar) or whether I'm on the street," she said.
Council must conduct a formal public hearing before approving a DORA. Keller said she would like to hear from downtown business owners before moving forward with the creation of such a district.
Todd Daughenbaugh, owner of downtown's Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery, said he had several concerns with the potential legislation. He said the DORA could take away from the downtown's family-friendly atmosphere.
"I'm concerned we're going to change Delaware and not enhance Delaware," he said.
Daughenbaugh said he also worried the creation of the district could create liability risks for his business.
Jeff Kirby, who plans to open a winery on East Winter Street, said he favors the change.
"I would love to see that for special events," he said. " ... I don't think it should be something that's (in place) all the time."
While boundaries have not been finalized, city officials have suggested the DORA likely would include portions of Sandusky, William and Winter streets in and near downtown.