A crowd shared their views on a proposal to implement a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) in uptown Hillsboro during Thursday’s Hillsboro City Council meeting, as council received the application from administration and heard the first reading of legislation for the possible DORA.
According to the Ohio Department of Commerce, “Per R.C. 4301.82, a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area or ‘DORA’ (aka Outdoor Refreshment Area or ‘ORA’) is nothing more than a specified area of land that a local legislative authority has designated as exempt from certain open container provisions as defined within the legislative act that created the DORA.
“Thus, patrons within a DORA that purchase an alcoholic beverage for on-premises consumption from a DORA designated liquor permit holder can leave the permit premises with an opened alcoholic beverage container and continue consuming it within the DORA.”
As pointed out by street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin Thursday evening, plans for the DORA have been discussed since July, when the matter was originally placed in his committee. The street and safety committee held a public meeting on the matter as well as meeting jointly with the community enhancement committee twice. An online survey, as well as an informational post including a video explaining the proposal, was also published by the city for public input.
Although individuals listed various reasons for either supporting or opposing the DORA Thursday night, it should be noted that those speaking also included political candidate Herb Day, who is running against current mayor Justin Harsha in the primary May 2, and supporters, friends and relatives of both Day and current city administrators.
Not only were the citizens almost evenly divided — nine comments were against the DORA, seven were in favor of it — but later in the meeting, council was also divided on the question of whether to hold a public hearing for further debate. After a tie-breaking vote by council president Tom Eichinger, it was determined not to hold a hearing.
According to Eichinger and Harsha, the DORA application was filed with city council March 20.
“We did pull the DORA [application] last month because there were some modifications we needed to make, and also, we wanted to make sure that there were three full readings,” Harsha said. When we put the application in last time, we were either going to have a vote by emergency, or we were going to have to have emergency meetings for the full three readings.”
As proposed, the hours of the DORA are Thursday through Saturday from 3-10 p.m. The total area is “approximately 24 acres in size,” including 100-139 North High Street; 100-139 South High Street; 101-160 West Main Street; 108-122 and 226 East Main Street; 235-237 West Beech Street; 118 South West Street; 126 and 108 Governor Trimble Place; and 107-119 Governor Foraker Place.
The application includes a list of boundaries for the area; a public health and safety plan; a list of qualified permit holders (currently the FOE Aerie 1161 and Hillsboro Orpheum); a sanitation plan; and other requirements. Also included is a picture of the proposed cups for the district, which list the rules for the district on the back.
Early in the meeting, the citizens’ comments portion was a back-and-forth largely between citizens, as both sides took turns sharing their views and/or responding to the comments of the other side.
Day spoke first and said he wanted to “appeal to council’s common sense and judgment” and to consider the DORA’s impact on current and future business; “liability” issues with sidewalks and lighting; and “the wishes” of the individuals living in the area. He also brought up religion, a topic that several individuals criticized.
“Those of you who attend church, have you talked with people that you go to church with about their feelings?” Day asked. “The people who elected you are your friends and neighbors and fellow Christians who will be watching your vote.”
On an unrelated topic, Day addressed the city regarding approval of a sign at a private business in the uptown district.
“The sign was approved through people at the city building,” Harsha said. “It followed all guidelines and codes. There is nothing it violated.”
Day responded, “Then perhaps we should consider some community standards.”
Laura Orebaugh of Hillsboro spoke next, also against the DORA, saying that citizens and business owners have told her they are “scared” and “angry” about the proposal. She said that the city needs to focus on being “a community” again instead of attracting new businesses or expansion. Orebaugh also said she has concerns for “trash and property damage” as well as the impact on current “alcohol abuse” and the “drug epidemic” in the area. She also suggested implementing a DORA in the Harry Sauner neighborhood or the Roberts Lane expansion instead of the uptown area.
Michael Brown, also against the DORA, said that there was increased crime in the days when there were “five bars” in the uptown area. He also argued that the DORAs implemented in other areas “aren’t working” and that there is “an extreme amount” of people opposed to the idea. Like Orebaugh, he spoke about the need for “community” values.
The fourth speaker, Brittany Tolliver, was the first to show support for the DORA. She argued that while being “part of a small community” is good, the lack of “recreation and opportunity for growth” is “driving people away.”
Next, Lowell Leber, another DORA proponent, pointed out that having a drink uptown does not necessarily mean you will become an alcoholic or get into a fight, while he also stressed the importance of separating religion and politics.
“It’s not government’s job to enforce religious values in the community,” Leber said. “I go to church, I expect my preacher to lecture me about drinking. It’s not the job of an elected politician to do so.”
The third consecutive speaker in favor of the DORA, Caleb Gregory, said that there was too much emphasis on “feelings” instead of collecting actual data and asked if they could do a “trial run” of the DORA. He also said that he and his wife have enjoyed walking around such districts in other municipalities and that he thought it would bring people from outside Hillsboro to the area.
Tracy Aranyos then spoke against the DORA, saying there are safety issues and that people can still visit establishments selling alcohol without the DORA. She suggested “getting a three-day permit” to sell alcohol during special events instead.
Kayla Jackson, who said she is “for the advancement” of the proposal, suggested that the opponents “educate themselves on the stipulations” of the district. “It’s not just a free for all,” she said. She also responded to citizens’ concerns about sidewalks and litter, saying that those are issues now without a DORA in place, and religion, saying that the district is successful in other “predominately Christian” towns with no noticeable “rise in crime.”
Dee Brown said she had concerns that people would “drink and drive” after visiting the DORA. Leber pointed out that the risk exists now with people drinking alcohol at restaurants, but Eichinger interrupted to stop “any cross talk” among citizens.
The next speaker, Cansas Rodgers, said she based her support of the DORA on “facts and statistics” and asked others to do the same before forming opinions. She said that communities that have implemented a DORA have “thriving” small businesses and growing local economies, and that having one in Hillsboro could help the city continue to grow.
Jean Fields said she is “totally opposed” to the idea of the DORA and of people “walking around drinking,” saying that Hillsboro used to be “wholesome” with movies and bowling as entertainment.
The only individual who said that he changed his mind from his initial opinion, David Mayer, said he went from being “adamantly against” the DORA to believing the city should “move forward with this.” He said that he has visited DORAs in other areas with “no problems.” Mayer also emphasized the need for “strict separation of church and state.”
Karen Miller said her opposition to the proposal is based on “people coming in with their containers and coolers that have drinks in there” to fill their DORA cups. “People are going to come in with their own containers,” she said. “If you’re doing research, you need to research that, also.”
Gregory then asked to speak again to address the drinking and driving/safety concerns.
“I live in town, so if there’s a DORA, I can walk from my house uptown,” he said. “Do you want people to drink the whole night of the bar and then drive? Or can we get people active, have one drink and walk around in this beautiful city of Hillsboro?”
Others who already spoke stood to address council again, but Eichinger said, “All of you have spoken already,” and asked if anyone else wished to comment.
Karen Harrah said that she and her husband recently moved to Hillsboro because it is “quiet and peaceful” and that they “don’t want” to live in a community of “drinkers.”
“If we start letting it happen, when’s it going to stop?” she asked. “What else are they going to want? Are they going to want strip clubs next?”
Roger Harrah chimed in about the crime rate, asking, “How much do we have to increase the crime rate before they say no to DORA?”
From there, Jessie Gregory spoke in favor of the DORA, saying that she enjoys DORAs and to keep in mind there is a “one-cup” limit.
“When I participate in the DORA, I take my one cup of alcohol, and I shop, and I go back, and that’s it,” she said.
After hearing from all 16 citizens, Eichinger thanked them and said, “We’re going to move on.”
A few minutes later, at the conclusion of his report, Harsha invited Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender to share statistics regarding other DORAs in the state and the impact on those communities. She said she collected this data through “interviews, phone calls and emails.”
Bolender began by giving a brief overview of the rules for the districts.
“The Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area is just that — it is a designated area,” she said. “It is only a boundary. It is not a liquor license or license to break any law. Individuals exhibiting disorderly or intoxicated behaviors are subject to arrest, just as if they showed the same behavior outside the designated area.”
Bolender added that the regulations for a DORA include “a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.” That includes business participation (up to each individual business, with the Division of Liquor Control overseeing DORA permits); the containers used (they have to be plastic cups with the DORA logo); and where the beverages can be consumed (only within the boundary, and no outside beverages are permitted).
“The state of Ohio Tourism’s webpage ohio.org published ‘how to explore a DORA on your next Ohio trip,’” Bolender said. “By visiting this website, you can view the other 125-plus communities with a current DORA in place. The State of Ohio views DORA as a tourism and economic development tool.”
The site can be accessed at: https://ohio.org/travel-inspiration/articles/explore-dora-designated-ou…. Many cities in southern Ohio have DORAs in their communities, including Athens, Chillicothe, Circleville, Milford, New Richmond, Portsmouth, Ripley, Washington Court House and Wilmington.
“The communities I surveyed expressed their desire to establish a DORA to increase tourism and discretionary spending within their small businesses,” Bolender said.
Bolender then reviewed feedback from those communities, including:
• Coshocton reported “increased revenue during their community events,” including approximately 500 more participants in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration and an approximate $37,000 increase in revenue; and approximately 9,500 visitors and $237,000 spent within the DORA during a three-day summer concert series. They also said there were “zero known arrests” due to the DORA.
• Deerfield Township agreed that there has been “no increase in emergency calls.” They shared statistics they received from the city of Troy before implementing their DORA, which included feedback from 24 other communities.
Of those, Bolender said that 18 reported “no impact” on sanitation, while six said they had to add more trash cans in the designated area. One city reported implementing increased police presence in the area when the DORA began but realized no “need to continue;” one said they have increased police presence during special events; and one reported “very minimal” impact on public safety. Twenty of the communities said the DORA resulted in “an increase in foot traffic and sales” in their area, while the other four had just implemented the DORA and said it was “too early to tell.”
• The city of Kent said that they have received feedback from citizens who indicated they “love having the freedom and flexibility to peruse the downtown with an adult beverage in hand, and businesses enjoy having extra sales.”
• Montgomery County said they have seen a “very receptive” response from the community and that their initial concerns of “noise and trash” have not proven to be a problem.
• The City of Springfield said that they have received “consistent” feedback from the community that “this is just adding to the excitement and growth of our downtown and another step in making Springfield a place where businesses can thrive and where people enjoy themselves.”
• Washington Court House reported an increase in “entrepreneurial interest in downtown real estate” since the DORA was enacted. “Entrepreneurs are interested in real estate where foot traffic is abundant and crime is low,” Bolender said. She added that their economic development department and police department have an “excellent relationship” and “agreed to communicate” any issues with the DORA to council immediately. However, the city has “not realized any crime increases during periods in which the DORA is active,” she said.
• On a similar topic, when asked for recommendations, both the city of Hilliard and the city of Chillicothe advised that they should be prepared to “adjust” the DORA once it is active. Bolender said the City of Hilliard recommended they “establish policies that govern the operation, renew your DORA annually and adjusted as needed.” Chillicothe representatives said that they had to adjust, as “they saw a need to increase the number of days and hours of enactment.”
“Of the communities I surveyed, communication and education were the most important aspects of a successful DORA,” Bolender said. “City government and the Hillsboro Police Department must work together to ensure business owners, citizens and visitors are educated regarding the rules and regulations of a DORA, should you choose to adopt legislation.”
All of these comments took place before council actually heard the first official reading of the “ordinance creating a designated outdoor refreshment area and enacting regulations.”
“The application was made to council,” Eichinger said during the first reading of ordinances and resolutions. “We will be looking at that as a council, and it will go forward with the normal readings.
“One point: there is no requirement in the ORC or legislation for the need for a public hearing. However, it is council’s prerogative to decide whether or not you want to have a public hearing. One action that we need to decide — and it should be decided this evening because there are timelines by which notifications have to be given — is whether or not this council wants to conduct public hearings.”
Wilkin made the motion not to have a public hearing, pointing out that “we’ve been talking about it since July of 2022” in several different public meetings as well as with the community.
“I think everybody’s hearts and minds are decided,” Wilkin said. “I mean, we can consider this the biggest public hearing we’ve had on the the DORA, because that’s what we’ve talked about 90 percent of the time.”
Wilkin added that he was in favor of giving the DORA “a chance,” and if it doesn’t work out, he said his committee would recommend to “disassemble it” instead.
“I understand people’s fear with what may happen,” Wilkin said. “There’s no one in this room that can tell me with any certainty what will happen, one way or the other. You can’t tell me that it will be successful. You can’t tell me that that won’t be successful. I know one thing, nothing will happen if we don’t try.
“We listened to Julie Bolender give fine examples of almost every small city that surrounds our town. I would like to think we wouldn’t be the one anomaly in all of southwest Ohio where this would fail.
“I think we should give it a chance,” Wilkin continued. “If for some reason this fails, and we’re having major issues, I’ve told everyone I’ve spoken with, I’ll be the first to ask it to be put back into my committee, and we can disassemble it if we want to. We put it up here, we can take it away.”
Before voting on Wilkin’s motion, council member Jo Sanborn asked if the city could look into the idea of doing a “trial” as suggested by Caleb Gregory.
“Having the DORA itself is the trial,” Wilkin said.
City law director Randalyn Worley added that she is not aware of any legal “provision for a temporary DORA.”
Wilkin’s motion against a public hearing was tied at 3-3, with Wilkin, Jason Brown and Greg Maurer voting yes and Dan Baucher, Sanborn and Don Storer voting no, leading to Eichinger placing the tie-breaking vote.
“My vote based is on everything that I’ve seen, and all the discussions I’ve seen on this — we’ve talked about it and talked about it,” Eichinger said. “No more talking is going to do any good. It’s a matter of looking into the next steps and moving forward to decide whether or not council wants to approve this or not, so I will vote in favor of not having a public hearing.”
For more from Thursday’s meeting, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/news/hillsboro-city-council-approves-ro….