Canal Winchester slows push toward DORAs

SCOTT GERFEN
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Patrons enjoy a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area event, known as DORA, on June 14, 2018, outside Sports on Tap in Old Hilliard. Canal Winchester City Council has been considering a DORA but appears likely to to forgo the idea for the time being.

Don't expect to be strolling through historic downtown Canal Winchester with a beer in your hand anytime soon.

Although city officials have begun laying out plans for a designated outdoor refreshment area, known as DORA, Mayor Mike Ebert and Sgt. Jesse Hendershot from the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office warned about moving forward too quickly.

Ebert specifically noted the current climate for police officers and enforcing the law and asked City Council to postpone DORA plans.

"You've seen the pictures on TV, all over the United States, where police officers are being 'brought down' for everything that they do," Ebert told council members during a July 6 work session. "I would hate to see our deputies try to enforce somebody who's walking 50 feet or 75 feet outside the boundaries and they ... want to get smart about it.

"In today's climate, that's a very distinct possibility. I want you all to think very hard about that."

However, according to the state law about DORAs, a mayor or city manager or township fiscal officer must initiate the application to create a public outdoor district where people are permitted to possess open containers of alcohol during approved times.

"Ultimately, we can't take action without your application," council member Will Bennett said. "If you and the sergeant don't feel that this is the right time, then that pauses right there. We can't take any action without your support."

The Fairfield County Sheriff's Office provides police services for Canal Winchester. Hendershot expressed concerns about manpower and enforcing the DORA regulations.

The city pays $1.16 million annually for its current three-year contract with Fairfield County for police protection, which began in 2019. It calls for a full-time sergeant plus two deputies covering 24-hour shifts seven days a week, and a third deputy to "work a shift mutually agreed upon in writing by the mayor ... and the sheriff."

There is also a full-time dispatcher assigned to the city under the contract.

"With our contract and special duty, if you're going to have somebody out here, it's a minimum of two people per our policies," Hendershot told council members. "So with two to three deputies working the road and then with people walking the streets with open containers, we're not going to be able to enforce that, really."

Ohio lawmakers first approved DORAs in 2015, and since then, designated areas have been created by municipalities in nearly 20 counties. In central Ohio, the communities of Delaware, Grove City, Hilliard, Lancaster, Marysville, Powell and Worthington have established DORAs, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Initially, only municipalities with a population of more than 35,000 were permitted to establish a DORA. However, that changed in 2017, with cities of 35,000 or fewer residents being allowed to create one DORA.

Canal Winchester's population was about 8,600 in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Municipalities are required to put together a plan that outlines the DORA's hours of operation. Posted signs would be required to designate the DORA boundaries. Also, patrons must drink from a DORA-designated cup.

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