MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An ordinance that would offer Downtown Morgantown and Wharf District businesses a chance for private outdoor designated areas (PODA) for alcoholic beverages has been approved by Morgantown City Council.
The first reading of the ordinance was approved unanimously by the council after some changes that were made ahead of the vote. The PODA encompasses the majority of Morgantown’s Wharf District and downtown areas, which are home to dozens of businesses, and will allow the sale of liquor, wine, and/or beer at approved businesses with a chance for customers to carry that beverage if it’s in a pre-approved cup. The measure was approved with the endorsement of Main Street Morgantown and local businesses.
“Administration and members of council have been very involved in this whole process to try to see if there was a way to make this work,” said Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws on the ordinance. “And work with the downtown business owners that would be affected by this,” he said.
The parameters of the ordinance focus on the PODA zoning in downtown, starting north at the intersection of High Street and Willey Street and all the way down just past the intersection of High Street and Garrett Street. The PODA zone would also expand as far west as the Walnut Street bridge and as far east as the end of Wall Street. That expands south of Walnut Street to expand into the Ruby Amphitheater that carries into the Wharf District, which covers all businesses down Don Knotts Boulevard up until a few hundred yards south of the Dorsey Avenue Intersection. Businesses would then be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages outside in pre-approved cups 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.
“The thought with timing is that it makes it so that there’s an attraction for young folks and for families,” said Main Street Morgantown Executive Director Amy Loomis in favor of the ordinance. “To be able to have that casual drink, maybe they’re going to have a mimosa and stroll while they’re waiting for their table on a Saturday morning,” she said.
Any business that wishes to participate in the PODA in Downtown Morgantown or the Wharf District would still be required to receive several licenses and approvals on both a municipal and state level. Floor plans with a Class A license to serve alcohol would be required by the West Virginia Beverage Control Administration as well as a city business license. Businesses that apply for a PODA license would also be reviewed by a committee that would include representatives of Main Street Morgantown, a member of Morgantown City Council, and representatives from the local business community. Anyone who is approved is also required to be a part of a joint and several-party liability agreement in the event of alcohol violations.
“Participation is limited by state law to licensees that hold a license to serve liquor,” said Kay, Casto, and Chaney Attorney representing the City of Morgantown, Ryan Simonton. “There’s a provision in the state law that requires that all participating licensees are joint and separately liable for violations.”
Despite unanimous approval of the ordinance, members of the council called for some improvements to the legal aspects of the state PODA measures to encourage more participation. Particularly the liability aspects of the measure that were required under state law. Councilor Danielle Trumble addressed those concerns with reported efforts by city officials who have been in touch with state legislatures to push for measures that could change aspects of the state code. With the state legislative session officially underway in Charleston, members of Morgantown City Council hope that tweaks to the state law can be made to better encourage businesses to participate.
“Ryan (Simonton) and I have been in touch with Delegate Williams, who made it no secret that getting some changes to this were among his priorities for this session,” said Trumble on the chances the measure is discussed in Charleston.
The official start for the PODA zones within the Wharf District and Downtown Morgantown is scheduled for May 15.