MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that amends the license and liability aspects of the new Private Outdoor Designate Areas (PODA).

The ordinance was approved unanimously as part of an effort to have a full rollout of the economic initiative by May 15. The amended changes to the ordinance focused on the list of qualified permit holders of a PODA license and the liability of businesses wishing to participate in a program that allows businesses to serve alcohol outdoors while allowing customers to carry beverages in designated containers. These changes follow legislation that was passed on a state level with the help of local efforts and make adjustments that allow more businesses to participate that were not made on a state level.

“The legislature intended to expand access to different business types,” said Kay, Casto, and Chaney attorney representing the city, Ryan Simonton, regarding the changes to the PODA ordinance. “That’s something that the city and Main Street Morgantown worked on, and I think that was the intent with the legislature, but maybe didn’t happen with the way the law ended up being passed,” he said.

The majority of the changes based on state code reflect House Bill 5295, which was passed almost unanimously during the 2024 Legislative Session.

The most noticeable change that was pointed out by members of the council was the removal of a joint liability agreement that would’ve held anyone who participated in the PODA liable in the event of an alcohol violation. This change was pushed by members of the council towards local legislatures due to the state code requirements that were a part of that aspect of the original ordinance. After changes on a legislative level, the council was more than willing to approve changes to the new ordinance.

“Bars and restaurants that participate will not have to enter into an agreement that says they are jointly and separately liable for any license violations,” said Simonton. “That was a big concern among our business community, and it has been removed with the bill the legislation passed,” he said.

Mandated PODA operating hours scheduled for Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends remained unchanged as part of the amended ordinance.

An amendment that adjusts the license requirements for PODA-participating businesses is also a part of the ordinance passed by the council. The new ordinance removes qualifications that would make floor plan approval and the submission of where alcohol will be served required for only Class A licensed businesses (i.e., bars, clubs). This change will allow for uniform requirements for businesses wishing to serve alcohol in the designated PODA zones within the Wharf District and Downtown Morgantown. However, it does not change any state mandated requirements for Class A or Class S2 licenses in order to receive a Class S-4 permit as part of the PODA zone.

“This ordinance does list those expanded license types, and it would allow anybody with a Class A license to apply through the city process,” said Simonton. “But there may not be an option to get the actual permit issued by the ABCA (Alcohol Beverage Control Administration) unless you have a liquor license,” he said.

The addition of a city employee to the PODA Review Board was also approved as part of the first reading of the ordinance based on a recommendation by the Morgantown City Manager.

Requirements such as mandatory municipal and state permits, a review of a floor plan by the West Virginia Beverage Control Administration, and approval from a city-established PODA Review Board were also unchanged. The PODA Review Board has also been established, with local business owners Grace Hutchins, Stephen Wilson, Stephanie Swaim, and Shannon Dowling joining Morgantown City Councilor Danielle Trumble and Main Street Morgantown’s Stephen Bennett as members. If there are any other changes to the PODA parameters on a state level, the city is expected to make adjustments accordingly.

“We should make clear to people who apply that unless they do have the ability to serve liquor, they may not be able to get the Class S-4 permit from ABCA,” said Simonton. “If that may cause confusion, we can provide an amendment,” he said.

The council also unanimously approved the second reading of the amended Fiscal Year 2025 budget valued at $45.03 million. Congressional spending requests of $4 million for fire station expansion efforts and $2 million for a Downtown Historic Revitalization Subgrant Program were also approved unanimously.