Village of Swanton Holds Public Hearing for DORA

Prior to the regularly scheduled Swanton Village Council meeting on October 11th, a Public Hearing was held to allow members of the public to voice their opinions on proposed legislation to create a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) situated in downtown Swanton.  In the State of Ohio, a DORA allows visitors aged 21 and older to consume alcoholic beverages outdoors and in participating businesses within the area’s boundaries, during designated hours, and according to DORA rules. 

Mayor Neil Toeppe began the hearing by explaining its intent and abiding rules and informed everyone the legislation would be in the form of an ordinance and would require three separate readings and approval before it could be enacted. He then opened the floor to any individuals in the gallery who were opposed to the legislation to voice their concerns.

The first person to speak was Toledo resident Pastor Kenny Garland of the Swanton Baptist Church on South Main Street.  Pastor Garland said he was concerned about the negative effects alcohol, alcohol abuse and alcohol advertising has on children, families and communities that he has dealt with in his profession.  The Pastor also said he was worried the presence of open containers would “normalize drinking” and send the wrong message to our youth.  “We’re showing the kids that drinking is cool, drinking is okay,” said the Pastor.  Other concerns expressed by Pastor Garland were the train tracks that intersected the DORA boundary, inebriated people being struck by vehicles traveling through town and public intoxication.  He also said he was not completely against it, but wanted it scaled back.

Next to speak was Swanton resident and owner of Epiphany Community Services located at 95 N. Main Street in Swanton, Deacon Dzierzawski.  Mr. Dzierzawski asked Mayor Toeppe to re-clarify the legislation and also requested a copy of the ordinance, which was provided.  He then disputed the DORA proponent’s claim that it would be good for downtown businesses.  This doesn’t do anything for my business.  Zero.  If anything, it costs me,” he said, claiming he would be spending money to clean up his parking lot and to implement security measures.  “I want to see it succeed as well, but I think it’s too big, too far, too fast.”

Pam Moore, owner of Club Salon on Dodge Street, addressed the Council stating that she was not against the DORA but believed it to be “way too big” and she was concerned about the relatively high volume of train traffic, estimated to be 100 trains per day, creating a safety issue.  “On a trial basis, start out small and let it grow,” suggested Ms. Moore.  “If it causes no issue then let it grow from there.”

Speaking in support of the DORA, Julia Benfield, owner of Benfield Wines located at the corner of N, Main Street and Zeiter Way, Chairperson of the Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Swanton Small Business Association.  “There are a lot of things our small business group wants to do that would include all the businesses including your business (Club Salon), said Ms. Benfield, speaking of the economic development the DORA would potentially generate.  “We’ve also had some pushback from business on the other side (South) of the tracks who don’t feel included in things that we do,” she added, explaining what was considered when establishing the DORA boundaries.

Ms. Benfield also pointed out that while the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) stipulates that a DORA ordinance needs to be reviewed every five years, Council has the right to review it at virtually every meeting and modify the rules and the boundaries.  Furthermore, Council can, at any time, suspend the DORA during special downtown events such as the Lions Club Halloween Hoopla or the Corn Fest Parade for example.

Representing Younique Boutique, a vintage ladies clothing store at 117 N. Main Street, Joyce Berry spoke in favor of the DORA.  In response to the concern that open containers would promote underage drinking, she said it would have no more effect than young people seeing their parents drinking at home or in restaurants or in other social settings.  Ms. Berry also said the DORA would benefit downtown businesses by making people aware of what is available downtown and would like people coming into her store with an adult beverage.  She believed the DORA concept should be allowed to proceed and tweaked as needed based on the Village’s experiences with it.

Prior to the hearing, Mayor Toeppe had asked Police Chief Adam Berg to follow up with other law enforcement officials from local communities with DORAs, as the Mayor had done, to find out what their experiences had been.  Chief Berg gave his report and stated the other communities were having no issues with it.

The motion to approve the first reading of the DORA ordinance was made and seconded during the Council meeting and discussion followed.  Councilman Derek Kania expressed concerns about liability to business owners if an individual were to fall and injure themselves on the side walk in front of their business or in their parking lot during the hours of DORA.  Village solicitor Kent Murphree responded that the business owner would only be liable if the fall was caused the neglect of his private property.

Mr. Kania also thought the process was moving too quickly and asked about delaying the vote on the motion.  Mr. Murphree recommended the vote be taken because it was only the first reading and another reading, along with Council discussion and possible public input, would be taking place at each of the next two Council meetings, giving everyone the opportunity to better understand the issue.

Council went ahead with the vote and the first reading passed with four “YES” votes and two abstentions.  Council members Dave Pilliod, Sam Disbrow, Patrick Messenger and Mikey Disbrow voted yes and Mr. Kania and Councilwoman Diane Westhoven abstained. 

A second reading and vote is expected to take place at the next Council meeting on Monday, October 24, 2022 at 7:00 PM in the Swanton Village Municipal Building.

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