BG’s DORA will expand to year round

Bowling Green Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution expanding the footprint of the downtown’s DORA, as well as permitting it to operate almost year-round.

The matter must now be forwarded on to the state of Ohio for final approval.

Debate on the legislation also featured two late proposed amendments, which ultimately failed.

“With a great deal of discussion, Resolution 3827 is adopted,” said Council President Mark Hollenbaugh after the vote, referring to the Downtown Outdoor Refreshment Area legislation by its designated number.

The original DORA was implemented in 2020 and, according to the expanded application from the Office of the Mayor and the Downtown Bowling Green Special Improvement District, “the timing of the 2020 DORA was related to the pandemic as well as ongoing community discussions about continuing efforts to activate the downtown area.”

The original DORA covered an area of approximately 9.23 acres along Main Street, stretching from Court Street south to Clough Street, and was in effect annually from the Friday prior to Memorial Day weekend until the end of the day on the Monday of Labor Day.

Under the expanded DORA approved Monday, that footprint is expanded along South Main Street to include the parking lot located on the east side of East Clough Street. Additionally, as stated in the application, “this expansion proposes an extension to the corner of Wooster/Prospect on the south and to the Community Commons on the north side. Other parcels are included to make the area contiguous.”

Further, the operation of the DORA has been expanded so that it can operate year-round, with the exception of the weekend of the Black Swamp Arts Festival.

During a July 5 council meeting, Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter said the city met with representatives of the BSAF and the SID about the matter, and both recommended that the DORA not be in operation during the festival weekend. The primary reason is that there is a different footprint for the BSAF than for the DORA.

Tretter said at that time that the DORA has been successful and there will be additional businesses that want to seek out being a part of it. Additionally, she said there have been no concerns about the DORA in terms of safety or sanitation.

During a public hearing held by the Community Improvement Committee prior to Monday’s council meeting, Tretter said that if the matter was passed, it would go to the state for approval, and would then come back to the city for implementation.

“Last time they responded very quickly to us via email, so we anticipate a quick turnaround,” she said.

During that hearing, committee member Jeff Dennis asked why Wooster Green, located at the corner of Wooster and Church streets near the downtown, hadn’t been included in the amended DORA map.

Tretter said that, though it had been discussed by city staff, it simply hadn’t been requested by anyone for inclusion. She said it could be considered in the future.

Resident Raul Ascunce spoke in favor of the expanded DORA, and also said he was in favor of including Wooster Green. He further voiced a concern he said was raised to him by a friend, specifically about the ecological issue of the DORA cups.

“I think, if this is going to be a permanent, year-round thing, we should have permanent bins for recycling those,” he said.

Dennis and committee member Bill Herald said that is being looked at.

When the DORA legislation came up for a vote during the council meeting, Dennis proposed that Wooster Green be added to the expanded DORA.

Herald asked if the city administration had an opinion.

City Attorney Mike Marsh confirmed that under the regulations, a proposed altered DORA map has to be advertised and posted, which the expanded DORA currently before council was.

“If you want to change the map (to include Wooster Green),” Marsh said, “I guess that’s OK, but we’d have to go back and readvertise it.”

Legislation couldn’t be passed that night.

Another issue is that DORA areas must be contiguous. Tretter said that, in order to include Wooster Green, the current DORA would have to be expanded somehow down Wooster Street.

“We do not recommend that you have a DORA in the public parking lots,” Tretter said. “That’s a concern of the Bowling Green Police Division.”

“Wooster Green is not contiguous, even to the new zone,” Marsh said, “so that’s going to require some thought on how to do that. I just recommend you approve (the current proposed map) and then we can look at amending it later to add Wooster Green. We don’t have anybody requesting using Wooster Green anyway in the DORA.

“That way we can look at how we might make it contiguous without running into a parking lot problem, if that’s possible.”

Councilman Joel Odorisio said he had additional concerns about the addition of Wooster Green to the DORA because it abuts residential neighborhoods.

Dennis said it should be looked at in the future, but acknowledged the reasoning for not doing anything that night. His motion ultimately died for lack of a second.

Dennis further suggested changing the provision that the DORA would not operate during the Black Swamp Arts Festival.

“I guess I’m wondering if anybody has a problem in creating a carve-out” in legislation for one organization, he said.

Dennis suggested that, in future years the festival expand their existing F-permit to encompass the entire DORA district. The permit would supersede the DORA.

“I think that there are a lot of other ways to accomplish it,” he said of the legislation. “What I don’t favor is putting it into legislation the way we have here.”

Marsh noted that the festival’s F-permit doesn’t include Main Street, only City Lot 2, which is not part of the DORA, and that there is no overlap between the two areas. He said the idea to exempt the BSAF weekend from the DORA came from Police Chief Tony Hetrick, because of the difficulty of policing whether DORA cups might be carried into the festival zone.

“How the hell do you police that?” Marsh asked. “It would be difficult. The laws are not particularly compatible, to have a DORA and an F operate at the same time.”

“I think the legislation we have before us is appropriate for the time being,” said Councilman Greg Robinette. “The two organizations that are affected by this,” the SID and the BSAF, were part of the the process in developing it, he continued. “And I think we should give it a run before we change it… For right now, this legislation seems to meet the needs of these two key organizations.”

Dennis asked what enforcement would look like if the DORA is not operating during the BSAF. Tretter said they will be educating the DORA-registered businesses that, during that weekend, they are not to sell DORA cups, and it is the BSAF’s responsibility to look after their F-permit area “which is the same challenge they have every year.”

Hollenbaugh clarified that “this year, DORA will expire on Labor Day so, for this Black Swamp, it’s going to be the same as previous Black Swamps.”

Todd Ahrends, the chair of the BSAF, said that if they were required to put in an F-permit for the entire DORA area, it would increase the number of signage and volunteers needed to monitor it. He said it’s already a challenge to muster the hundreds of volunteers they currently have.

Marsh, responding to a question from Hollenbaugh, said that under an F-permit, the BSAF is responsible for the entire area of the permit. He said that concerns about that issue were discussed at a meeting about the DORA proposal, noting that the BSAF didn’t want to have to be responsible for behavior all over the city.

“They’re responsible for their permit area,” Marsh said. “I don’t know if they could even buy insurance to cover the whole downtown. … We tried to come up with something that would create a balance that everybody can live with.”

Dennis’ motion to amend the legislation so that the DORA would not stop during BSAF weekend died for lack of a second.

The expanded DORA proposal was approved 7-0.