The expiration of a pandemic-era policy could force the Ocean Pours Taproom in Ocean Shores to dismantle its large “beer hall” structure in the next few months.
On Aug. 18, Ocean Pours co-owners Randy Gardner and Roy Seeman received a letter from Ocean Shores City Attorney Brent Dille stating “the city cannot issue you a business license until you declare your tent is going to be a temporary or a permanent structure” and that current city code does not allow the tent to be declared as a permanent structure.
Ocean Pours’ business license had expired earlier in 2023, forcing Seeman to reapply.
That gave the business one option — to declare the tent as a temporary structure, and start a 90-day timer until it would have to come down, which Seeman says could jeopardize the future of the business. But that won’t happen without a fight from Ocean Pours — one they’ve been waging for several years.
In an effort to rally support for his tent, Seeman took to Facebook earlier this month, attracting comments with a 2,200-word post arguing for the structure to stay.
More than a tent?
Since it was erected three years ago in the lawn adjacent to Ocean Pours’ brick-and-mortar building, the structure — a steel frame holding weatherproof fabric covering picnic tables accessed through a roll-up door — has provided patrons a comforting environment to drink beverages year round, even in cold and rainy weather. Seeman said it became an important part of his business during the COVID pandemic, when the taproom’s small indoor seating area was too cramped for comfort, and that it’s still a big part of his business model.
“We got a huge following because we have this outdoor area where you can bring your dogs and sit outside,” Seeman said. “A lot of people really support this thing.”
Recognizing such structures as a tool for keeping businesses open with social distancing rules in effect, Crystal Dingler, former mayor of Ocean Shores, enacted an executive order that temporarily suspended a section of the city’s zoning code in November 2020.
“The City of Ocean Shores shall allow tents and non-permanent awnings, canopies and coverings to afford an outdoor dining experience in non-residential B-1 and B-2 Zoning Districts and any portions of the Ocean Shores Municipal Code that would require suspension in order to comply with this Order, are hereby suspended,” the executive order reads.
Several businesses in the zones took advantage of the ruling by erecting tents and awnings on their patios. All have since been removed except for the structure at Ocean Pours.
While that executive order made the Ocean Pours tent legal, it wasn’t what prompted Seeman to build the structure in the first place. He said he always intended for the structure to be permanent.
Seeman and Gardner had already begun looking into building a tent structure at Ocean Pours earlier that summer after a similar apparatus in Westport. Seeman then submitted an application with the city’s planning department to build a new membrane structure on the Ocean Pours property, and in a preliminary review letter, the city stated his proposed tent was in compliance with building codes surrounding weather — able to withstand a 135 mph wind gust and 25 pounds of snow per square inch. Seeman also bought coated, flame-resistant fabric in order to comply with fire code requirements.
Seeman said he built the structure with the proper parts to be considered a permanent structure, and that the International Building Code has a section dedicated to permanent “membrane structures.”
Ocean Shores Building Official Roy Simmons said the International Building Code lists examples of permanent membrane structures as “green houses, agricultural buildings, sheds, stables, soils storage and similar facilities not used for human occupancy.” Under that code, the Ocean Pours structure is a “temporary structure,” and is allowed five to 15 square feet per person as an occupancy guidline.
When the planning department’s final review letter came, it informed Seeman his proposal had cracked city code.
“Ocean Shores Municipal Code does not specifically permit this type of structure, although it does not specifically prohibit it either,” the planning department stated.
For assistance the city reached out to the Municipal Research and Services Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit, and attached the center’s response to the letter. The issue of temporary and permanent tent structures was circulating among King County building officials, who said they had issued several tent permits under a special executive order. Ocean Shores told Seeman that “once the governor’s order for a phased safe start has ended, we may want to reevaluate this structure based on the outcome of its performance over a six-month period.”
Seeman said the city’s final review prompted him to purchase the structure: $18,000 for a structure sturdy enough to meet building requirements and $10,000 for a foundational pad and installation. “They insist on calling it a tent,” Seeman said. “You don’t pay $28,000 for a tent.”
Seeman received another letter, a follow-up to the final review that would lead to the conflict at hand.
“We have received an interpretation of the code from our attorney who has deemed the structure should not be permitted,” citing city code section 17.30.040. According to that code, if a city code doesn’t specifically permit a type of structure, then those uses are prohibited.
Still, Dingler’s executive order kept the structure legal. According to Seeman, city officials advised him to apply for a temporary building permit to keep the beer hall standing and retain his business license while the city looked for a long term solution.
That would require a change to the city zoning code.
Ocean Shores’ B1 zone, or “retail commercial,” covers the northwest portion of the city, stretching south of Chance A La Mer north to Damon Road.
For each zone in Ocean Shores, the city’s zoning code provides a list of approved uses and activities. Taverns and restaurants are both allowed in the retail zone.
But the zoning code doesn’t list membrane structures or tents as an approved use, according to Marshall Reed, lead planner for the city of Ocean Shores. While one part of the retail zoning code does address outdoor structures, it lists specific examples of what those could be.
“Uses that have some outdoor characteristics may be permitted if it can be shown that such outdoor activity is customarily a part of such uses or that some public benefit will accrue by location of such use in this district. Examples are automobile service stations, public buildings and facilities, nurseries, lumberyards and other uses of a similar and compatible nature,” the code reads.
Reed said tents are only temporarily permitted under the city’s special events code and must be approved in advance by the city council.
“They’ve excluded this thing all the way through the B1 code,” Reed said.
That was the “pretext for the initial denial of the structure,” Reed said. He was not the lead planner during the city’s initial assessments, but worked with Ocean Pours as an employee of the planning department. He said he told Seeman he would take the issue to the planning commission, the five-member body responsible for making zoning recommendations to the city council.
Reed tasked the commission with deciding whether or not to add “membrane structures” as an approved use for the B1 zone. The commission debated the issue but ultimately decided to recommend not changing the code.
Gary Pease was a member of the commission during that time and is now its chair. He said commission members feared membrane structures would fill the downtown area if they were allowed.
Ultimately, Pease said, the commission did not feel “tents and other structures are appropriate in the Ocean Shores downtown, because we are sort of trying to clean up the downtown and make it look more appealing.”
Pease said the commission looked for a way to accommodate Ocean Pours, however, “We saw no way to let the Ocean Pours tent stay unless we made them legal everywhere.”
In an interview, Seeman argued that changing the code to specifically address membrane structures would not bring an overwhelming amount of them to Ocean Shores, given the large investment required to purchase and engineer them to building standards.
He also said the structure is “not an eyesore. If you look at it, it looks pretty cool, it looks like a beer hall.” He said he’d be willing to appease the concern by planting trees to shield the structure from view of the street, and said he was frustrated he wasn’t able to provide input to the planning commission during their process.
The decision was not the end of the effort to make the structure legally permanent. The city council formed an ad hoc committee in 2021 to address the issue, and drafted a resolution that would’ve allowed “engineered tents, awnings, canopies, and coverings” for outdoor business opportunities. The council discussed the ordinance but never adopted it.
In a Facebook post, Seeman expressed frustration that “the city is no longer willing to work with us to help us keep our structure.” In an email to The Daily World, Seeman shared a voicemail he received from Mayor John Martin in February 2022 when the mayor informed him of the planning commission’s recommendations to not allow the structure.
“The city is still working on what would it take to be a permanent structure,” Martin said. “That’s going to be my recommendation that we are still going to be moving forward and looking to see what we can do.”
Martin said a city council vote is required to change the code, but no other ordinances or discussions have come forward to address the issue. Martin said he “left the emergency order up hoping that we could come to some type of solution.”
“I’ve had two building officials say that it does not meet code and the planning commission say that it does not meet code,” Martin said. “For me to go in and change (the code) isn’t an option for me,” adding, “I don’t believe we should make policy on Facebook posts.”
Martin said on Sept. 20 the emergency order allowing the tent structure to remain standing is still in place, but he plans to lift it “shortly.”
Contact reporter Clayton Franke 406-552-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.