City leaders may soon place limits on how late restaurants and bars can serve patrons on downtown Raleigh sidewalks.
Raleigh’s law and public safety committee on Tuesday recommended a plan to start closing city sidewalks to restaurants and bars at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The plan would also limit downtown bars and restaurants to serving one person per 15 square feet of space on the sidewalk.
The restrictions would stay in place for six months if adopted by the Raleigh City Council at its meeting Tuesday. After that “trial period,” city leaders say, they’d evaluate how well the rules temper noise and clear sidewalk pathways.
Earlier this summer, staff in the city attorney’s office suggested that the council adopt new rules governing sidewalk use because people who live on Fayetteville Street and Glenwood Avenue complained about noisy crowds waking them in early morning hours.
The push for new rules exposed tension between downtown Raleigh residents who live near some of the city’s most popular bars, and the people who account for a lot of those bars’ business. On Tuesday, about 75 young people in blue shirts crowded council chambers to protest any restrictions.
The plan endorsed by the committee was proposed by city councilman John Odom as a compromise to the other two city council members on the committee. Councilman Wayne Maiorano wanted to end sidewalk use at midnight each night, while councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin sought to allow use until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It will hurt (businesses) and I hate that,” Odom said after the meeting. “Vibrancy is something we want but we want people to live downtown as well, and to make both sides happy we had to do something.”
Some residents said the rules didn’t go far enough to protect their sleep. “I’m disappointed that people didn’t line up with council member Maiorano’s good-sense, best practices solution,” said downtown resident Will Marks.
“Most adults try to go to sleep by 10, maybe 11 at the latest,” said Jon Kolkin, a physician who said regular sleep loss can cause obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Meanwhile, advocates for bars and restaurants near Glenwood and Fayetteville argued that new rules would significantly hurt their profits. The city could cut down on noise without a sidewalk curfew, said Zack Medford, who owns downtown bars Coglin’s, Paddy O’Beers and Common 414.
“Some of these (sidewalk) capacity restrictions will solve the noise problem,” Medford said.
One popular downtown bar, The Raleigh Times, supports efforts to clear the sidewalks and reduce noise. “No one is asking our businesses to shut off ... they’re just asking us to go inside,” said Andrew Stewart, finance strategist with Empire Properties, which owns The Raleigh Times.
“We’re willing to sacrifice on that if it’s for the greater good of the community,” he said. The Raleigh Times has a lot more space than other downtown bars.
Early curfew times would devastate Calavera Empanadas and Tequila on Blount Street, said its owner Ken Yowell. Under sidewalk curfews, patrons wouldn’t close out their bar tabs and go inside, Yowell said: “They’d close out and leave.”