MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council will move an ordinance that establishes private outdoor designated areas within city limits to their agenda.
In response to the passing of Senate Bill 534 by the West Virginia Legislature, an ordinance that establishes the boundary lines of the Downtown/Wharf Private Outdoor Designated Area (PODA) was passed unanimously by Morgantown City Council. The ordinance would allow for alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) to be served outdoors at permitted locations within the PODA zones, similar to other locations in the Mountain State, on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The PODA would encompass the majority of the Wharf District up past Don Knotts Boulevard, with a boundary located just past the intersection with Dorsey Avenue, as well as the majority of Downtown Morgantown.
“Huntington and Charleston are doing these successfully in West Virginia, many, many places in Ohio are doing them well,” said City Attorney Ryan Simonton on the background of the proposed ordinance. “We looked a lot at Marietta [Ohio] because it’s a smaller, college town,” he said.
High Street will be in the middle of the Downtown PODA zones, with a southern boundary line at Foundry Street, a northern boundary at Willey Street, an eastern boundary of Spruce Street except for selected buildings on Baird, Fayette, and Court Street, and a western boundary of Chestnut Street with a merge exception for areas located around the Wharf District. Any business located in downtown Morgantown or the Wharf District will be required to apply for a city PODA permit, which would be approved by a committee that includes representatives from Main Street Morgantown, Morgantown City Council, and business owners who operate in the PODA zone. They would also have to be compliant with the state alcohol control board.
“Bars within the district will apply to the city to get permission because that’s what the state law says they have to do, but then they have to get another license from the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration,” said Simonton. “So they will have a separate license for participating in the PODA.”
If a business is approved to have a PODA permit, they will only be allowed to serve alcohol in their designated area on Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. Businesses that are approved as part of the Downtown/Wharf District PODA will also be required to account for provisions to avoid littering and public consumption. This would include the addition of signs from participating businesses that tell patrons where the PODA zones are, with a requirement for no liquor-related alcohol sales. Any alcoholic beverages served by the business would need to be held in plastic containers. Anyone with a designated PODA cup would then be allowed to travel around the Downtown/Wharf District PODA without any concerns from law enforcement officers.
“The theory is, you can go to a restaurant and get a drink, and walk down the street to your favorite shop, browse and buy something, and be on your way,” said Simonton.
The implementation of the Downtown/Wharf District PODA comes after close to two years of conversations with state officials and measures to encourage businesses to operate in an outdoor setting. This ordinance was designed using similar measures passed in Huntington and Charleston, and members of the council supported the idea of potentially amending their ordinance. This includes exploring changes to the mandate that states that businesses that participate are subject to a “collective penalty” provision of the state code, as well as the inclusion of liquor sales and possible expansion of PODA zones to other parts of the city. While some changes are expected to be easier to achieve than others, the council supported the initiative intending to vote on the ordinance by the end of January.
“It seems as though it will work well, think I just want to make sure that if another (business) was interested, that they could,” said Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin. “I had the same concerns about someone that had a beer or wine (license, could sell) but not a liquor license, it would seem silly not to include them,” she said.