Long Beach City Council hearings on proposals to increase off-street parking are normally yawners. But one such session Tuesday night — the outcome of which would effectively allow the opening of a shop called Tipsy Scoop, a purveyor of “alcohol-infused” ice cream — had council members reaching for the hangover pills.
The council approved the variance for Tipsy Scoop, 3-2, but only after a flurry of questions from residents at the virtual Zoom meeting.
Melissa Tavss, who owns two Tipsy Scoop shops — one in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, and the other in Manhattan — applied for an off-street parking variance to open a seasonal shop at 891b West Beech St.
Several council members said they were unaware that the shop would sell ice cream infused with alcohol, and raised immediate objections, saying they worried about the availability of the product to children in the West End, an area already populated by a number of bars.
Tavss said her shops also sell ice cream without alcohol, that her products all contain warning labels, that customers must show proof of age and that her shops are not required to have a liquor license. Her employees, she said, are all 21 or older.
“We will be transparent,” Tvass said. “We are federal and state approved for formulas of our products.” Those products, she said, are sold in New York City’s Whole Foods stores, at the Beginnings in Atlantic Beach and in 7-Elevens in Hawaii.
Tavss created her brand for catering gigs. She opened her first Manhattan storefront in 2017. The alcohol content of her ice cream, she said, is up to 5 percent.
The kerfuffle started when Roy Lester, a candidate for a seat on the City Council in the June 22 primary, said he was “upset by serving [alcohol infused] ice cream when you put it into an ice cream shop. Nobody had any idea this involved alcohol.”
City Council President John Bendo and Councilman Scott Mandell said they had heard about the ice cream’s alcohol content just before the meeting. Mandell suggested that the matter be tabled to give the council and the public time to consider the matter. But Tavss said she was hoping to open by Memorial Day weekend.
Council Vice President Karen McInnis objected to the motion to table, saying, “Two weeks is an eternity to a small business owner.”
Bendo said the council should vote. He reminded council members that they were not voting to allow or disallow the shop, only on the off-street parking variance.
Bendo and council members Liz Treston and McInnis voted in favor of the variance; councilmen Michael DeLury and Mandell voted no.
“My biggest concern is opening a seasonal business when there is alcohol involved in an ice cream container,” DeLury said.
Judi Vining, executive director of Long Beach AWARE, a community organization that works to prevent alcohol and drug use among young people, said she was on the virtual meeting to serve as a resource to the council. The shop would “add another place to sell alcohol,” she said, and she questioned how the shop would be policed.
In other actions, the council, as expected, approved raising beach fees, but the fees will not be as high as originally proposed. City officials believe capacity on the beach this year can be expanded to as much as 75 percent, compared with the 50 percent capacity last year, when Covid-19 infection rates were much higher. The more capacity on the beach, the more revenue is collected.
The new proposed fees are:
Resident families and their children who have not yet reached their 18th birthday on the first day of the season can purchase season passes for such families and children for $90. Non-resident families and their children who have not reached their 18th birthday on the first day of the season can purchase season passes for such families and children for $180. Resident children between ages 13 and 17 can purchase individual season passes for $25. Non-resident children between 13 and 17 can purchase individual season passes for $50.
Resident adults between ages 18 and 61 can purchase season passes for $70. Non-resident adults between ages 18 and 61 can purchase season passes for $140.
The council also held the first of two public hearings on the proposed $93.6 million budget for fiscal year 2022, with a 6.3 percent tax increase for residents as the city faces rising pension costs and expenses, some due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bendo said there had been “a big push” by the city to expand beach capacity. Because capacity was limited last summer, the city lost about $1 million in revenue.
Kevin Heller, a candidate for a City Council seat, said that residents are being burdened by higher taxes and beach fees.
“I would ask the City Council to vote against this budget,” Heller said.
Lester and several others said the proposed budget was the most transparent they had seen.
City Manager Donna Gayden said, “We really scrubbed this budget,” and she noted that the city had hired a law firm and a financial restructuring firm to help it secure financial stability.
The council will hold a second budget hearing next Tuesday.