Confusion over the town’s new sidewalk rules has Apex Peakfest organizers considering moving the event from its current downtown location.
Apex officials and business owners are in negotiations regarding a new town amendment that prohibits the sale of food items on sidewalks downtown during special events.
But any future changes won’t help downtown businesses during this weekend’s first Apex Pigfest. The barbecue competition is expected to lure 10,000 people downtown.
Apex Peakfest Chair Brenda Steen said several people on the committee are for avoiding the hassle of the new sidewalk rules completely and moving the festival near Ambergate Station development.
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Some downtown business owners are crying foul over the new rules approved in April.
Peak City Grill co-owner Steve Adams and Yuri Rojas of Anna’s Pizzeria said it’s unfair for the town to allow merchandise to be displayed and sold during festivals but not allow food.
What qualifies as a food table and the distance restriction has also been questioned.
Adams and Rojas told the council during a meeting June 5 that they interpreted food tables as dining tables and chairs, not display tables with ready-to-eat food.
It’s no different than someone trying to sell pottery, which is allowed, Rojas said.
They also believed that because the tables were not within the 36-inch sidewalk right of way, they were complying with the law.
However, police warned Rojas his tables were in violation during this year’s Peakfest.
According to the new rules, the 36-inch right of way doesn’t apply during special events. No food tables are to be set up on sidewalks during special events.
Apex Police Chief Jack Lewis and Mark Haraway both spoke out against allowing the sale of food from tables on the sidewalks in front of the restaurants citing safety concerns.
“The difference between merchandise displays and people buying food is that you have people standing 5-, 6-, 30-deep for a slice of pizza,” Lewis said.
The purpose for the change was to be consistent with N.C. State Fire code which requires that giving public safety workers access to the sidewalks, especially in the case of an emergency evacuation.
Rojas and Adams said the town already closed off the street to cars, and there is plenty of space to navigate. Most people walk on the street anyway because that’s where the booths are.
Downtown Ambassador J.C. Knowles spoke in support of the restaurants.
“We certainly feel the festival is for Apex and Apex merchants,” Knowles said. “If we want to say we don’t want to see lines, let us work it out.”
Councilman Scott Lassiter appeared to understand the businesses’ plight.
“The downtown restaurateurs are keeping our downtown afloat. I would hate to forget about them,” Lassiter said.
He recommended leaving the 36-inch sidewalk right of way in place for festivals as well, on a trial basis at least.
In the end, the council did not make a motion to modify the rules. They referred the matter to the festival committee, town staff, and businesses to see if there was a way to give businesses reduced-price booths.