It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Zack Medford.
First he received an email from the City of Raleigh at 4:59 p.m. on Friday, May 29 letting him know about a Monday, June 1 meeting on a proposed rewrite of city rules that would strip bars of their rights to have tables on city sidewalks.
The change would cut Medford’s revenue in half at Paddy O’Beers, one of three businesses he owns with sidewalk seating on Fayetteville Street.
At the June 1 meeting, the outdoor minibar set up at Medford’s bar, Coglin’s Raleigh, during Brewgaloo on April 25 was used as an example of outdoor dining gone rogue.
While there have been ongoing conversations with city officials about crowding on sidewalks, the outdoor bar issue took him by surprise, he said.
“They are using this as ammunition against us and why this ordinance is required,” he said. “The funny thing is we are fully permitted, and on top of it they never told us that we can’t do this.”
Since at least 2013, Medford has been opening outdoor bars during most downtown events and believed it was sanctioned, he said, as he sought a temporary permit extension from the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. The approval includes a map of the outdoor area with the bar and a sign-off with written comments by the Raleigh Police Department.
The situation is one example of the confusion and frustration stemming from city officials’ proposal – sprung on business owners last week – to revise city rules for restaurants, bars and other spaces that hold outdoor dining permits, which allow them to put tables and chairs on city sidewalks. The controversy is the latest version of an ongoing clash among competing interests and visions as Raleigh’s downtown revitalization takes hold.
Events could impact eateries
One of the most significant changes in the proposal could impact all 29 businesses that hold outdoor dining permits by annually suspending all permits on the Fourth of July holiday.
“In addition, the City may temporarily suspend Outdoor Dining Area permits at any time for any reason, including any other special event approved by the City,” the proposal states.
The city delayed action on the larger proposal after business owners balked at the changes and a timeline that included a City Council vote as early as June 16. Instead, the City Council directed the proposal to its Law and Public Safety Committee, which plans to hold a discussion on the item at 3 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.
Assistant City Manager Marchell Adams David said the city is “evaluating and considering all possible options to preserve public safety,” and the discussion will likely gauge whether the city leaders support moving forward with suspending outdoor dining permits on July 4.
While the ordinance applies to the entire city, the only businesses that use city sidewalks and have sought the outdoor dining permits to place chairs and tables there are in the downtown area, city officials said.
Mikhail Jannik, owner of the nearly nine-year-old coffee shop Crema On Fayetteville, was surprised and disappointed to learn about potentially losing his outdoor seating during events. Sidewalk seating is a significant perk that Jannik and other business owners on Fayetteville Street say makes it worthwhile to pay rent to stay there 365 days a year.
“It just seems like that the permanent residents of downtown are constantly at odds with special events and special interests,” said Jannik, who started the coffee shop in 2006, one month after Fayetteville Street reopened to vehicular traffic.
While his business would suffer from the loss of outdoor seating, he said, the temporary vendors who set up in the street during the festivals would benefit.
“We are the ones who have been doing business for eight years,” he said, “and all of a sudden they want to change the rules.”
The proposal, Associate City Attorney Nicolette Fulton said, seeks to provide clarity for business owners and establish standards that address pedestrian safety, customer control, occupancy limits and “some bars just not following our rules.” Specifically, the proposal seeks to keep walking areas clear for pedestrians during weekend nights, Fulton said.
“The last thing anybody in the city wants is to get a report of someone being run over because they had to walk around a group of people,” she said.
While weekends are busy, pedestrian traffic elevates significantly for major events such as July 4, and city officials are “looking at a holistic sense of public safety” in making sure that thousands of people, including those in wheelchairs and with strollers, can move down the street and maintain some personal space, Adams David said.
Crowd control an issue
Shop Local Raleigh Executive Director Jennifer Martin criticized the city’s handling of the situation. She doesn’t understand how shutting down outside areas for about seven bars will address the larger issue of crowd control when restaurants in the area also serve drinks to late-night crowds. City Council members took the proper next step, she said, when they sent the issue to committee.
“We need to work together,” Martin said.
The city’s current rules relating to outdoor dining on city sidewalks outline general requirements for a “restaurant property” to get a permit, but don’t define what a restaurant is.
Under the new proposal, only eating establishments in which alcoholic beverage sales don’t exceed 70 percent of their revenue and food businesses are eligible for permits.
The terms and definitions are based on state ABC regulations, Fulton said, which define a food business as one that typically sells food to go, such as a bakery or grocery store. Food businesses, however, also include stores selling wine for consumption off the premises.
The proposed exclusion of bars would affect seven businesses, said Martha Lobo, the city’s zoning enforcement inspector. Those include Medford’s clubs – Paddy O’Beers, Coglin’s and Common 414, along with Foundation, Capital City Tavern, and, with recent permit requests,The Anchor Bar and Alchemy Raleigh.
The purpose of the ordinance was always outdoor dining, city officials have said. The sidewalk problems, Lobo said, typically come into play at about 10 p.m. It’s one thing for 20 people to sit at tables and eat dinner. It’s another to have 40 people standing outside in that same space, she said.
The proposal, which is based on an Austin, Texas, ordinance, includes restrictions – no minibars or cash registers in outdoor dining area – violations, penalties and an appeals process.
Adams David said the proposal follows about six complaints about sidewalk seating between Brewgaloo and Memorial Day weekend. While no bars have been cited with breaking city rules, Fulton said the proposal comes after the city tried to work with bars and informing them about ongoing concerns.
It got to the point where the city needed to take steps to encourage “proper enforcement and proper compliance with policies,” she said.
Medford said while there have been conversations about crowd control and customers lingering in areas that should be open for pedestrians, no one has said anything about his minibars. As late as April, he received approval to open an outside bar at Coglin’s for five different events – Brewgaloo, a gay pride festival, two food truck rodeos and July 4. A Raleigh Police Department official signed off on the report and wrote out other requirements, including additional security.
ABC spokesperson Agnes Stevens said the state organization would need to hear from the city before the organization could answer definitively how city concerns would impact ABC’s approval for the temporary permit extension at Coglin’s for the upcoming food truck rodeo on June 14 and the July 4 celebration.
At the heart of the city’s concern, is that Medford strayed from Coglin’s outdoor site plan that the city approved for the space.
Will Marks, who has lived on Fayetteville Street for two years, said he was glad to see that the city was getting back to the original dining intent of the rule, as his sleep has been affected by the late-night congregating crowd.
Marks said he understand that the rules were more relaxed initially, but he’s ready for some rules that will help tame the sidewalk night life.
“The city is trying to get back on track in the right direction,” he said.