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Paradise Grill reapplies for expanded liquor license

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Protestor: Restaurant is albatross on Pot-Nets

Paradise Grill is taking a second shot at expanding its liquor license to cover a 19,000-square-foot outdoor patio. The restaurant's first application was denied in September. The patio would bring the restaurant's seating capacity to around 8,000.

Located in Pot-Nets Bayside, Paradise Grill wants to extend its liquor license cover an outdoor patio and concert stage area, which opened this summer. Its request has been protested by Pot-Nets Bayside residents, and the expansion will be subject to a public hearing. A date for the protest hearing has not been set, but Delaware Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner John Cor-drey said he expects to schedule the hearing in early January.

Besides noise and safety issues, opponents of Paradise Grill's expansion also say that the restaurant violates the spirit of Sussex County's comprehensive zoning ordinance and has never received a conditional-use permit from the planning and zoning commission.

Michael Eisenhauer, president of the Bayside Homeowners Association, said the county zoning ordinance allows for small retail businesses intended primarily for the occupants of the park. However, he said, Paradise Grill seats more than 8,000 - more than all the leaseholders in the Pot-Nets Bayside community. Eisenhauer said that is not keeping with the spirit of the ordinance.

Paradise Grill owner Al Tor-tella said the restaurant has addressed safety concerns by changing the traffic pattern and adding more parking spaces, as well as using shuttle buses to take people to the facility.

Paradise Grill would like to expand its liquor license to include a 417-square-foot raw bar, a 417-square-foot bar and a 576-square-foot stage. Paradise

Grill was fined $1,000 by the ABCC in January 2015 for noise complaints that occurred in August 2014. At a May 11 protest hearing, Cordrey tabled Paradise Grill's application after protesters said they were property owners who were not given the required legal notice. ABCC regulations call for all properly owners within 1,000 feet to be given written legal notice. Paradise Grill argued that Pot-Nets Bayside homeowners did not actually own their property, so written notice was not required.

In a September decision, Cordrey agreed with the Pot-Nets homeowners and denied Paradise Grill's application. However, the restaurant has refiled the application and Tortella said notification has been sent to affected property owners.

When asked whether the inability to serve alcohol on the patio affected business at the seasonal summer restaurant, Tortella said, "Sure, it had an effect." He said he did not open the patio or use the stage this summer, even though he legally could have, albeit without alcohol service.

Tortella said he chose not to open the new bars because it would be too difficult to keep patrons from going there with drinks. Because he did not open the new bars, Tortella said he was unable to employ 83 people who had conditionally been hired to work the expanded patio. At the height of the summer season, he said he employs around 225 people, many of whom are Pot-Nets residents.

"This place brings a lot of good to the community," Tortella said.

Another protesting homeowner, Stephen Wilz, said Paradise Grill's liquor license should be revoked because the restaurant never received a conditional-use permit. "The proposed, no, even the existing Paradise Grill is an albatross," Wilz said. "This facility exists in the middle of a residential mobile home community." He said the restaurant causes safety and traffic issues, with children operating golf carts intermingled with patrons and people walking their dogs in a totally congested area. Periodic public drunkenness has been encountered, Wilz said.

"Rest assured that my cohorts and I view this issue as a serious threat to our safety and security and a flagrant violation of our lease and do not intend to fade away into the sunset," Wilz said.

Tortella refuted Wilz's assertion, saying if the restaurant was not in compliance, the county would not be issuing it building permits. Tortella said the protest petition from the Bayside Homeowners Association had 30 signatures; the association itself has 59 members and there are 2,200 residents of Pot-Nets Bayside. He said the association couldn't even get all its members to join in the protest. Tortella said the protest only accounts for about 2 percent of Pot-Nets Bayside residents, however, the protesting residents have tried to frame it in such a way to appear as if they speak for everyone.

Eisenhauer and the homeowners association have been vocal in their opposition, but some Pot-Nets Bayside property owners support Paradise Grill.

Patty Weyl, a Bayside resident, said Tortella has greatly improved the noise and parking issues at Paradise Grill by hiring a sound engineer and reconfiguring the parking lot. She said the restaurant had no problems with noise during the summer.

Weyl disagreed with Cordrey's decision that Pot-Nets homeowners were property owners because they do not have deeds to their properties. She said a petition that she has helped circulate in support of Paradise Grill has garnered 2,000 signatures. "I think it's a shame they are taking a stance against it," Weyl said of the protestors. "You're going to have noise at a resort."

Of Tortella, she said, "He's listened to the community. He really does support the community."

"We're just waiting for a hearing date," Tortella said. "We'd like to prevail."

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Original Publication Date: January 5, 2016

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