DORA opponents air views
- Published: June 11, 2021
Opponents of creating a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA, in Yellow Springs shared their thoughts at a Village of Yellow Springs town hall two weeks ago.
The meeting was arranged as a way to elicit public feedback about the proposal. However, no citizen or local business owner spoke in favor of it.
Village Manager Josué Salmerón presented the idea and facilitated a discussion at the meeting. He started by sharing the rationale behind the DORA proposal and its benefits. Council Member Laura Curliss, the only elected official who spoke, raised questions and suggested a more limited version of a DORA.
Salmerón said that the goal of creating a DORA in town is to “enhance the outdoor dining and entertainment experience while encouraging more business for participating restaurants and retail establishments.”
Salmerón went on to defend the DORA proposal in the face of criticism, suggesting that issues like trash could be “mitigated” and added police services paid for by cup sales, special event revenue or an entertainment tax.
“The intention is that the DORA is self-supported through the business activities that it generates,” Salmerón said, adding, “this will not come at the expense of taxpayer money.”
Critics, however, challenged that downtown businesses need more customers, especially on crowded weekends. They also raised concerns about sufficient bathrooms and additional policing. Several business owners said it would not benefit them.
“Putting the alcohol on the street doesn’t give any business any benefit,” said Christine Monroe-Beard, who owns Peach’s Grill, Ye Olde Trail Tavern and Import House with her husband, Don Beard.
The Beards added that they don’t believe it fits the “brand” of Yellow Springs, which is family-friendly. Establishing a DORA would be like having a Street Fair every weekend, Christine Monroe-Beard observed.
“When we have Street Fair, it brings a completely different vibe, a completely different mindset. People treat it like Mardi Gras,” she said. “The complete debauchery we have to deal with on this day, to open that up to every weekend and to expect our staff to police and babysit even more of this — it’s not our vibe and it’s not something we want to encourage.”
Chris Wyatt, who lives near downtown, questioned why the idea was brought to the table without asking whether any business wanted it. In response to Wyatt, Salmerón said he had not personally talked with any businesses that serve alcohol.
“If it’s not popular with the people selling alcohol, it’s not happening,” Wyatt said.
According to state law, four liquor license holders in a geographic area must agree to the DORA before it can be established.
At the same time, Wyatt said he was grateful for the forum.
“It’s a terrible idea, but I’m glad you’re willing to listen to … how terrible I think it is,” Wyatt said.
Raven Behrens, the Village manager’s administrative assistant and a resident, observed that differing local perspectives on a DORA reflect a clash of cultures, as many visitors “come to town to party.”
“The culture locally is clashing with visitors,” she said. “People who live here want [the culture to be] family-friendly and the people who come here want to have a good time.”
Salmerón first broached the DORA proposal at Council’s April 19 meeting. It drew flak in letters to the editor in this newspaper and to Council, and at Council’s next meeting on May 3, an ordinance to create a local DORA did not move forward. The town hall was then scheduled to gather more public input.
At the town hall, Salmerón addressed some DORA criticisms. For instance, he said that there are examples of DORAs in communities with a large state route, such as Montgomery, and who are not a “depressed community in need of spurring economic development,” such as Loveland. Although cups must be disposable, they could be made from biodegradable, plant-based plastics, he added.
Salmerón said that while other communities use DORAs to attract more visitors and accommodate more patio space for restaurants, he doesn’t think that’s applicable to Yellow Springs. Instead, a local DORA could allow visitors to consume beverages on public properties such as the John Bryan Center or Beatty Hughes Park.
Salmerón also shared the results of a recent survey of 17 local business owners conducted by the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. Of those surveyed, 71% opposed a DORA, 23% were in favor, and 6% may support it if the proposal were modified.
Council member Curliss said she would prefer a more limited DORA where businesses such as the Mills Park Hotel or Miguel’s Tacos could easily create more outdoor seating on their properties without needing to abide by strict state requirements and the need to erect fencing.
“It would be nice if it could be as small as one business,” she said.
Salmerón emphasized at the meeting that a DORA is not “all or nothing,” but a “flexible program” that could operate on weekends only or during special events.
Kate Hamilton said she worries a DORA would increase negative interactions between police and citizens, potentially negating the advances that the department has made in pursuing fewer stops.
Asked by Hamilton to weigh in, YS Police Chief Brian Carlson said he has similar concerns.
“My biggest concern is limiting police interactions with citizens, so this scares me a little bit,” he said, adding that alcohol consumption is a significant factor in problematic police interactions with citizens.
Carlson additionally said he has spoken with law enforcement leaders in communities that have a DORA and learned that two of the biggest issues are trash and people filling up cups with their own alcohol.
“That happens considerably,” he said.
Others speaking against the DORA were Wayne Gulden and Bette Kelley, who live in the central business district and worry about trash and public urination, which are already problems on weekends. Several residents also wrote in the YouTube comments section with their concerns, including Jesse Gilsinger.
“I live inside the proposed DORA. Pandemic or not, I do not want to be surrounded by hundreds more less inhibited people, their noise, their trash, and their bodily fluids,” Gilsinger wrote.
“I’m still waiting to hear from someone outside of the Village Manager that’s in favor of this,” Gilsinger added.
During his presentation, Salmerón said that the DORA idea came from the Village’s latest comprehensive land use plan, which was adopted in October 2020.
The economic development section of that plan mentioned a DORA as one strategy to “support and strengthen downtown.”
In addition to action items related to creating more parking and identifying new building sites, is the strategy to “explore the creation of a … DORA to encourage outdoor dining, improve flexibility for special events and better enable social distancing in the time of COVID-19.”
Specifically, according to the action item, “this could open up areas like Beatty Hughes Park or vacant lots for temporary seating.”
Salmerón concluded the town hall by saying he would compile the feedback he has received and present it to Council at a future meeting. That report will also be made public, he said.