New permit allows for private parties, dances and meetings, but no more all-night skates

The 30-year tradition of all-night skating events at Milford Skating Center is now a thing of the past.

Milford City Council unanimously approved skating center owner Carmen Kemper’s request for a conditional-use zoning permit Monday but also added new limitations on the rink’s hours and functions.

“When my lease is up in four years, I’ll be looking to take my business elsewhere,” Kemper said Tuesday. “Right now, I’m no longer the sole owner. I’m sharing my business with the City of Milford.”

While the permit means the skating center will be able to continue hosting private parties, teen dances and community meetings, the limitations mean the rink will be required to close its doors by midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

The vote also effectively bars nonprofit groups that rent the 15,000-square-foot skating center for private functions from selling alcohol during their events.

Council’s vote followed a two-hour public hearing during which Kemper repeatedly disputed allegations made by the Milford Police Department.

Lt. Kenny Brown testified in opposition to Kemper’s application on behalf of the police department. He pointed to two private parties at the skating rink in October that he said were examples of the problems a conditional use permit would create.

One of the private parties involved Delaware State University students who, he said, flooded the streets and caused fights after 1 a.m.

“Now there are 800 angry people on the street,” he said while making a presentation that included security camera photographs of people outside the skating rink and recordings of police dispatch calls. “That’s a recipe for a fight and there were fights everywhere with only four cops to handle them.”

Kemper said the photographs of people outside the skating rink were of guests arriving and waiting to be patted down by security. She said the number of attendees was under the 299 allowed by her occupancy permit and noted that no alcohol was served at that function.

Brown also warned town officials about the potential presence of “roving night clubs,” which he described as a dance club without a home.

“They go from facility to facility, renting venues by giving landlords a story such as ‘For a birthday party,’” he said. “But everyone pays at the door and there are no presents and no birthday cake … They tear (properties) up, fight, do damage, cause havoc and contribute nothing to the community but problems.”

Kemper said she has her own certified security personnel who work private events in which the renter does not provide their own security.

She also insisted that she has no interest in renting her property to traveling nightclubs.

“There’s been a lot of mischaracterization and misinterpretation,” she said. “I want to provide a safe and supervised place for teens and community organizations.”

Kemper, who was manager of the skating center for 10 years before taking over ownership in 2011, was required to seek a conditional-use permit in December because certain functions hosted by the roller rink, such as teen dances and private parties, are not permissible in the current zoning designation.

On Monday, Kemper’s attorney Bill Chasanov argued that the roller rink has been hosting those functions since it opened in 1982, which predates the zoning designation.

“This zoning allows tap rooms and fraternal organizations where alcohol is served and dances are held,” he said. “I don’t even know why we’re here.”

Several council members said they did not want to negatively impact the skating rink’s business, but reported having reservations about allowing any alcohol to be served there, whether or not minors are present.

Although Kemper had requested extended hours for occasional private parties and all-night skating sessions, she said she planned to continue imposing an 11:30 p.m. closing time on most Friday nights and 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

Council members instead opted to set the closing time at midnight to prevent minors from mixing with bar patrons who also would be on the streets at 1 a.m.

“If we can somehow compromise while still providing activities for children then I think that will be good,” Vice Mayor and Ward 4 Councilwoman Katrina E. Wilson said prior to the vote. “It’s adult things and capacity issues that need fine tuning. We also need better communication between the management of the rink and the police department.”