Changes on tap for Route 54

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) has granted a “taproom” liquor license for what is slated to become Scotty’s Bayside Tavern, west of Fenwick Island on Route 54.

Commissioner John Cordrey outlined comments and concerns from the neighbors — residents of Keenwick Sound — and their attorney, Robert Witsil.

The tavern would be in the West Fenwick Station, right across the street from the entrance to the Keenwick Sound development — in fact, the residential community and strip mall share a common entrance.

Witsil presented a petition with roughly 200 signatures opposing the taproom, but proprietor William Sharp’s attorney, Robert Stoner, brought in his own list of 200 signatures in support.

Witsil argued some of the supporting signatures were from people living in communities miles away — all of the opposing signatures were from residents of Keenwick Sound, he said.

Nearly 30 of those neighbors attended the ABCC hearing on May 9 to register their objections.

As Stoner reminded those in attendance, his clients had a legal right to operate a taproom on the commercial property. When people moved to Keenwick Sound, they’d been aware that the neighborhood shared an entrance with a commercial site, he said.

From Cordrey’s decision: “No evidence was presented to show that the objections were by those residing in the election district where the applicant is to operate and all contiguous election districts, sufficient to give this Office reason to believe that a majority of residents in the community in which this applicant would operate objected to this application.”

Representatives from nearby Fenwick Island Baptist Church had also voiced concerns, citing broken homes and ruined lives as a direct result of alcohol abuse.

However, Cordrey concluded that evidence showed opposition to alcohol in general and was insufficient to support a denial based on “whether the sale of liquor at a particular place is or is not likely to exert an undesirable influence or otherwise be obnoxious because of its proximity to a church or school.”

“Quality of life” issues aren’t clearly defined in statute or Delaware case law, Cordrey continued.

Inasmuch as the taproom might lead to increased traffic and noise (and, according to some of the objectors, increased criminal activity), he said there was no evidence to show a “reasonably direct relation between a demonstrated factual situation and a plain interest of the public.”

Finding the applicants had complied with all the relevant statutes, Cordrey said the ABCC had no reasonable grounds upon which to deny the liquor license.

Cordrey did include in his decision a reference to the section of code offering the right of appeal, which would have to be filed within the next 30 days and would be heard by the Appeals Commission with 20 days notice to all parties.