An application for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) that would allow open alcohol containers in Hillsboro in the historic downtown area branching out to the city’s greenspace was debated at the Thursday meeting of the Hillsboro City Council. This DORA, which will be open from Thursday through Saturday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., was filed on March 20, 2023, with the council hearing the first reading to approve the area during the April 13 meeting.
A number of Hillsboro residents voiced both support and opposition to the proposal during the meeting.
“I just want to appeal to council’s common sense and judgment tonight when you again consider the DORA,” Herb Day, Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha’s opposition in the upcoming Republican primary, said. “Will it really attract business to the uptown downtown business area? I submit that it won’t, but I’m only one voice. The people who elected you who are your friends and neighbors and fellow Christians will be watching your vote … so I hope that you will reconsider this whenever it comes time to vote.”
Harsha said that although the application for the DORA was pulled out of submission last month, it has been resubmitted to the city council.
“We did pull the DORA from last month because there were some modifications we needed to make, and also we wanted to make sure that there were three full readings, and when we looked at it the last time, we were either going to have to vote by emergency or we were going to have to have an emergency meeting to have the full three readings,” Harsha said.
The meeting also allowed multiple people to voice their approval or dissent for the DORA.
Michael Brown, a Hillsboro resident opposed to the proposal, said he lived in Hillsboro when there were five bars in the city and his parents told him to be home on Friday and Saturday by 9 p.m. “before things break loose.”
“If you talk to the older policemen from my generation, they will tell you they had a very difficult time of policing Hillsboro because their time was spent taking care of all that things that were taking place on the sidewalk,” Brown said. “As a pastor also, I am scattered within this entire community, and for the very few that want it, there is an extreme amount that don’t.”
Hillsboro resident Tracy Aranyos also spoke against the proposal at the meeting.
“There are only so many businesses that can have a liquor license, so having an DORA and having people walk far distances is not safe,” she said. “You don’t have to have a DORA because you could get a three-day permit to have beer gardens, which is what Greenfield does.”
Karen Harris, who recently moved to Hillsboro with her husband said she also does not want to see the proposal move forward.
“If we start letting it happen, when is it going to stop?” she said. “What else is going to come in? What else are they going to want? Are they going to have strip clubs next?”
There were also those that voiced their approval for the DORA.
Hillsboro resident Brittany Tolliver was one of those that spoke at the meeting.
“I like our small community and being part of a small community, but what it is missing is recreation and opportunity for growth,” Tolliver said. “We are trying to grow it, and people do want to settle and raise a family, but with naysayers to any opportunity to grow or change that’s not going to happen, and we are going to flounder as a city, period.”
Caleb Gregory of Hillsboro also spoke at the meeting in support of the proposal.
“Maybe let’s draw some data and statistics and see what happens,” he said. “I think we are losing some people against Greenfield, Wilmington and Loveland because they have DORA.”
Kayla Jackson of Hillsboro also spoke in support of the proposal.
“I would really encourage those that are opposed to DORA to really educate themselves about the stipulations and guidelines that come along with that,” she said. “It is not just a free-for-all where you can walk out on the sidewalk and have as many drinks as you want and there are no rules.”
Concerning those on both sides, David Mayer of Hillsboro said he changed his mind about the proposal.
“Initially, when DORA was proposed, I was adamantly against this, but after further study, seeing that the district has been scaled back, I think we need to consider moving forward with this,” he said.
Harsha invited Highland County Economic Development Coordinator Julie Bolender to speak to the city council about facts and information regarding DORA districts.
“It is not a liquor license or license to break any law,” Bolender said. “Disorderly conduct is not permitted in the city of Hillsboro, including the proposed DORA district.
Bolender said each business located within the district can choose its level of participation and all DORA alcohol containers must be plastic and prominently display the DORA logo. She said individuals would not be permitted to bring their own beverages inside the boundaries of the district.
She also said she gathered information about other DORA districts in Ohio through interviews, phone calls and emails.
“The communities I surveyed expressed their desire to establish a DORA to increase tourisms and discretionary spending within their small businesses,” Bolender said.
She said she received positive responses about the results of DORA districts in Coshocton, Deerfield Township, Troy, Kent, Greenville, Springfield, Washington Court House and Chillicothe.
A response from the city of Kent stated that “The community loves having the freedom and flexibility to peruse the downtown with an adult beverage in hand, and businesses enjoy having extra sales.”
Bolender said Washington Court House reported an increased entrepreneurial interest in downtown real estate since the city adopted legislation creating a DORA, and local police have not realized any increase in crime.
“I would like to think that we wouldn’t be the one anomaly in all of southwest Ohio where this fails,” Street and Safety Committee Chair Adam Wilkin said. “I’ll be the first to ask to have it put back in my committee, and we can disassemble this if we want to.”
Wilkin also made a motion to the council to forgo any further public meetings about the topic. Council member Jason Brown seconded the motion. Council members Adam Wilkin, Greg Maurer, and Jason Brown voted in favor of not initiating further public comment, while council members Dan Baucher, Don Storer, and Jo Sanborn voted against the motion.
Council President Tom Eichinger broke the tie in favor of not holding further public meetings about the issue.
The first reading of the proposal to the council was heard, and the issue will be moved to a second reading at next month’s city council meeting.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.