Pictured in red is a tentative map of the proposed DORA in the city of Hillsboro. (Photo courtesy of the City of Hillsboro)
Pictured in red is a tentative map of the proposed DORA in the city of Hillsboro. (Photo courtesy of the City of Hillsboro)
Hillsboro City Council members continued discussing a proposal to a submit a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) application for the city during a joint meeting of the street/safety and community enhancement committees Thursday, Sept. 22, with the group ultimately deciding to survey more citizens and business owners before moving forward.

Those in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, in addition to council members and city officials, included several local residents who own or represent area businesses.

No official plans were finalized at the committee meeting — aside from agreeing to create a survey — as the group decided to schedule another public meeting once they have more input.

As previously reported, at the regular August city council meeting, street and safety committee chair Adam Wilkin gave an overview of a “fact-finding” meeting to discuss the DORA proposal.

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.”

Since that meeting, the Village of Greenfield approved legislation creating a DORA in their downtown district, as reported by Angela Shepherd. Other areas with DORAs include Loveland, Chillicothe and Wilmington.

Throughout that report and during Thursday’s meeting, Wilkin stressed that the city can “set the parameters for everything,” including the areas the DORA is in effect as well as time limits. He added that he’s heard concerns about “late night” hours for the DORA, but as was pointed out, most restaurants close by 10 or 11 p.m. in Hillsboro, so the DORA hours would not exceed those.

A common theme throughout the meeting was committee members’ concerns about notifying individuals affected by the district and receiving additional feedback.

First, committee member Patty Day asked if residents living in a DORA — once parameters are determined — would be “notified by mail” about council’s ordinance.

“This step right now is just to see if council is on board with this idea, because our first step is for the mayor to actually apply to the state for this district,” safety and service director Brianne Abbott said. “Once we apply, and we are accepted, then it has to get through council for legislation. So it would go through the typical three readings and giving the opportunity for all businesses and residents to have their say.”

Local resident Ann Morris then asked if the city had “thought about contacting the business owners and the property owners that would be in that district.”

“At the last meeting there were several business owners here, and Adam has [contacted some of them],” Abbott said.

Later in the meeting, committee member Jason Brown proposed contacting all of the uptown business owners for the city to consider implementing a DORA in that area “if they’re on board.”

Toward the end of the meeting, the group eventually decided to survey business owners as well as individuals living in the proposed district area, after Day pointed out that even the uptown district includes residents, not just businesses.

Abbott suggested that the city could send a survey, and/or invitations to a public meeting, to everyone in the district. After discussion, they decided to do both, with the public hearing to be determined.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said. “This will take four, five, six months by the time you apply for it, it goes through council’s three readings, then it doesn't take effect for 30 days or something like that after. You’re talking at least four months just through council.”

The city’s survey, along with a video and other information explaining the proposal, is available online at https://bit.ly/3SNFe5J.

Council has already received some input. Committee members Day and Brown said they have had several people contact them to discuss the DORA, with Day saying that she knows of several business owners and residents who are “not in favor” of the proposal.

According to Wilkin, most of the people he’s spoken to — including several business owners — are in favor of the proposal, with the exception of a couple business owners against it and one who was on the fence, he said.

Brown said that he didn’t hear “negative” comments, but he agreed with the individuals he’s spoken to who had concerns the city is “putting the cart ahead of the horse” in implementing the DORA.

“There's not a single business uptown right now that a citizen could walk in and buy a beer,” Brown said, adding that the only businesses that sell alcohol in the uptown area are “private.” “You're going to create this, but there's nothing up here right now that even functions for that.”

Wilkin said the goal is that the DORA would “promote the idea of more businesses to open up during those hours and have more businesses involved.”

Morris — who said she is one of the business owners who contacted Day to say she was against the proposal — echoed Brown, asking, “Why do we want one?” and also asked about “who is going to patrol it” or “why do [people] want to go from here to here to here” drinking.

Mayor Justin Harsha responded that the idea is to “promote the walkability of downtown” and its businesses, as well as to plan for future events at the city’s green space on West Main Street, as the city plans to develop the area over the next few years.

“We're trying to incorporate this into the walkability and just get people out and moving and doing things in the downtown area,” Harsha said. “That's the main factor behind it.”

Morris asked, “What would be at the green space?”

“We’re hoping there's going to be an amphitheater down there with concerts and events and plays and everything,” Harsha said. “It's not just for that. It’s for the whole downtown.”

Morris said she doesn’t “want more” issues of “people hanging around” her alley.

“I think it should be noted — noted in big bold letters here — we can put this into action, but we can also rescind it if it turns out to be a terrible idea,” Wilkin said. “I’ve talked to Bree [Abbott] several times, and she’s assured me there will be police presence around — not in a ‘I want to bust somebody’ kind of way, but just so everybody will feel safer with police around.”

Day asked if that meant “increased man hours on the police side,” and Abbott said they do not intend “to hire any additional” officers for the DORA.

Abbott also spoke about the city’s motivation behind the DORA proposal, saying “it's a tool that a lot of communities are using.”

“Lauren [Walker, economic development assistant] is in a bunch of webinars, and we get literature often about tools that we can use for economic development and how to boost our industry, current businesses, and then also grow on top of that,” Abbott said. “This would just be a tool in our toolbox, just like anything else.

“I don't always like to compare us to other cities, but Chillicothe is doing this very successfully. They're getting ready to expand. Greenfield just adopted it. I think they're excited to see what it can bring as far as from an economic standpoint.”

Brown asked if Abbott knew how large the districts were in those municipalities. She said she did not, but assured the committees that the state regulations impose “size limits” for a DORA.

“We got a call today, a lead, for the downtown who wanted a liquor license,” Abbott said. “While there isn't anyone currently, we do know for sure the Patriot Public House will be there, and then we had this lead today. I don't know if we establish a district — establish it and they will come? I don't know the answer to that. I don't know if it's better to be proactive or reactive. That's why it's in front of you guys.”

Wilkin pointed out that any additional businesses selling alcohol in the uptown area would “still be bound by the same rules as everybody else in the district.”

Concerns about the areas placed within the district were discussed off and on throughout the meeting. [See the photo with this article for a map of the tentative proposed DORA.] Abbott said they have already removed North High Street properties from the proposal.

Brown said he didn’t “like anything west of West Street” being included. Day agreed, though Wilkin said it would “cut out” one of the restaurants that serves alcohol on that side of the city.

“I know that it's because you're wanting the green space to grow and people to be able to go down there and drink,” Brown said. “Would you not want to be able to sell alcohol there to generate revenue to come back to the parks? Instead of allowing someone to buy a beer or drink uptown and then walk into the concert with it, there's got to be a way you can get a license as a municipality to sell that and then keep that profit and put that back toward the parks.”

Harsha disagreed, saying the city isn’t “trying to draw back” from people buying drinks at other restaurants and walking with them down to the green space.

“You’re not allowed to load up a cooler,” Harsha said. “You're allowed to take a drink with you and walk down the street.

“We’re not trying to corner the market and try to take money. We are promoting the walkability. We're trying to get people to the downtown and walk around the businesses and shop, hopefully, if they're open. The key is not selling liquor. That is not the drive behind this whole thing at all. The key is getting people to walk around and do business with our businesses.”

Harsha added that having a DORA could encourage the opening of other businesses, such as a brewery, in the uptown area.

“It’s all about development and getting people out and having fun,” Harsha said. “It's not anything to do with getting people out to make them drunk.”

Wilkin also said he thought having a DORA would be “fun” for residents. Day and her husband Herb said they enjoy walkable communities such as Loveland that include restaurants and shops. Council member Mary Stanforth said young adults in Hillsboro go to other areas such as Wilmington, while local resident Dan Pearce agreed, saying people have described the Wilmington DORA to him.

However, in speaking about the “walkability” aspect, both Morris and Herb Day expressed concerns about bringing alcohol into other businesses, such as shops uptown.

“There's a difference between the people in Highland County and the people in Loveland,” Herb Day said. “I’m speaking personally because I am from here. I'm a part of that redneck generation.

“I don’t think that you’re going to get the results that you think you’re going to get.”

Wilkin said he didn’t think they should abandon the DORA idea “based on the worst case scenario that we can think of.”

“I understand what you're saying, but here's the thing,” Herb Day said. “If the only attraction is walking around with alcohol, that you’ve defeated yourself. If you've got the events, if you've got the places that they can go to hear live music or if you’ve got the attractions — if you for sure have something at the green space, that’s wonderful.

“But if the only attraction is you can walk around with a drink, I think that you're going to go end up in a problem.”

Herb Day added that although he agrees “we have to do something to say ‘Hillsboro is open for business,’ I don't think that throwing up the alcohol sign is going to do that. It’s not going to attract the element that you're looking for, and I don't think you're going to find the cooperation of businesses, even if they seem to be on board.”

“Well, I don't know what should come first, the DORA or the businesses,” Wilkin said. “Right now we don't have a DORA, but we also don't have any businesses that stay open late, either.”

Herb Day asked “which businesses will benefit from this” in that case.

“I don't know if I can look at it from the point of view of what businesses will benefit more so that I can the businesses that may benefit in the future or businesses that may come here,” Wilkin said.

Day said he “doubts very much” that businesses will develop in an area “where people are walking around with open flasks.”

Stanforth said she didn’t feel it is “right” to “generalize” about people or to say “people are going to be walking around drunk going from business to business.”

Council president Tom Eichinger also pointed out that businesses in existing DORAs get to determine whether or not they participate. Abbott agreed, saying that the district includes signs for businesses to indicate whether or not they are “DORA-friendly.”

“No one reads signs,” Morris said.

Herb Day and Morris also said they had concerns about lighting being an issue. Adkins said that if the DORA plans progress, the city can incorporate plans for lighting into projects the city is already designing.

“Right now, we're having engineering done to redo Beech Street, Elm, all of Railroad Street, all the way up McDowell,” Adkins said. “That's new storm sewers, sidewalks, water, sewer. We can include lights in the engineering.

“[Lighting] is not an issue. All that does is guys, I’ve got to call AEP, and they'll put security lights on the poles.”

Patty Day agreed that lighting is needed but said she’d also be concerned about backlash from residents if there’s increased lighting.

“This is proposed as a catalyst for growth,” Abbott said. “If we're not growing, we're dying. Keep doing the same thing, it's never going to change. I think if we start implementing some of the tools that are out there for economic development — I know you all said that we don't have anything to do. I disagree. I think it's getting better. People are starting to invest.

“We already have some funding for the amphitheater project. There's going be a park down there. There'll be trail systems. All the things that you see in Loveland — and I love about Loveland, too — that creates community, that's what we want. We need a catalyst because it's been relatively stagnant. That's why we're here.”