Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert still not sold on DORA

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.

Canal Winchester City Council has been considering the idea of establishing an outdoor drinking district since May, but those conversations have yet to convince Mayor Mike Ebert, who has the legal authority to initiate the application.

The mayor said he is hesitant to move forward with a Designated Outdoor Drinking Area in "the current climate."

"I'm just afraid in today's environment, it could create more problems than we're ready for," he said during council's Aug. 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

"Our (Fairfield County Sheriff's Office) deputies and those nationwide are under a lot of stress and a lot of unknowns out there about how far they can go. I don't think it's the right time to be unloading something like this on them."

The city doesn't have its own police department. The sheriff's office provides law-enforcement services for Canal Winchester, and Sgt. Jesse Hendershot expressed concerns about manpower and enforcing the DORA regulations during a meeting in July.

"We can keep going around about what we think, but I think ultimately, the mayor has spoken," councilman Will Bennett said.

When asked if he would be OK with pursuing a DORA for special events, Ebert indicated he could be supportive of events held by Destination: Canal Winchester, the city's nonprofit tourism and economic development organization.

"A break-in period, where we can start out slow and work our way into it," Ebert said.

According to Ohio law, a mayor, 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.

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

Council invited Colin Hietikko, events and marketing coordinator for Destination Downtown Lancaster, to answer questions about that city's DORA, which is seasonal.

"People, especially the bar owners, take a lot of responsibility in making sure the customers are doing what they should be doing and educating them," Hietikko told council.

"They know it could be taken from us. ... It hasn't caused any issue with the police department."

Outside of special events, Lancaster has not hired special-duty officers to patrol the DORA, which has 16 participating liquor licenses.

Hietikko said he believes the DORA has helped other downtown retail establishments.

"It's a great benefit for a group of ladies, for example," he said. "They grab some wine and they go to another place to shop or do some kind of an activity."

"After hearing what Colin said, I would love to see this happen as soon as possible to help out our businesses, who may or may not be struggling," Canal Winchester councilman Chuck Milliken said. "I think it's highly beneficial for them."

But council president Mike Walker expressed caution.

"As much as I want to see it happen, ... we certainly want our sheriff's department and the mayor comfortable with it," Walker said.

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