City leaders are one vote away from revising regulations on sidewalk dining, several of which were put into effect less than a year ago.
Raleigh’s Economic Development and Innovation Committee, chaired by Mayor Nancy McFarlane, on Tuesday endorsed a set of changes that will, among other measures, cancel stanchion, seating and sign requirements for businesses with sidewalk dining permits that the council adopted in August.
The changes were authored by a resident-run group over eight weeks and would apply to dozens of downtown businesses – from The Raleigh Times and Capital Club 16 to Paddy O’Beers and The Remedy Diner – if the City Council adopts them at its meeting on June 7.
The committee wants businesses cordon-off their dining areas with ground-level medallions rather than ropes and stanchions. It wants to allow businesses to post alcohol laws on window signs rather than on tables and ropes. And it wants to ban tables bigger than 42 inches in height, width or length – but allow businesses to move them around within their designated dining space, something current regulations prohibit.
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McFarlane described the changes as “common sense” solutions that would help businesses while tempering noise and keeping crowds small enough to keep walkways clear – the intent of the restrictions adopted last summer.
“Like everything else, we’ll see how it works and might need to come back and make some changes,” she said.
The City Council is expected to review the changes during its June 7 meeting.
In a separate but related move, the mayor’s committee endorsed a proposal to change the way businesses in Fayetteville Street plazas (such as Exchange, Market and City plazas) apply for sidewalk dining permits.
Under the proposal endorsed 3-1 by the committee Tuesday, businesses in Raleigh plazas could not apply for sidewalk dining permits through city staff as most other businesses do. The committee wants to ban privately-run outdoor seating in plaza areas, but allow plaza businesses to seek seating by appealing to the City Council.
Councilman Bonner Gaylord opposed the move, while McFarlane and council members Kay Crowder and Dickie Thompson supported it.
The idea is to provide downtown visitors to Fayetteville Street with quiet areas that serve as refuges from the otherwise busy street, Crowder said.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t get food and take it there,” she said, encouraging customers to use public seating.
There are several bistro-style tables and chairs in City Plaza, on the south end of Fayetteville, that are owned by the city and used by Fire Wok, Happy and Hale, Shish Kabob and Jimmy John’s. The committee’s proposal has no effect on those tables or on Bolt Bistro & Bar, which leases space from the City of Raleigh in Exchange Plaza and is guaranteed outdoor seating through its lease.
Amir Sadeghi, owner of Cold off the Press juice bar in Exchange Plaza, plans to renovate his business and add outdoor seating by the end of June. He sees the council’s move as a necessary safeguard that he’s OK with – so long as the council doesn’t one day reject his proposal for seats.
“I don’t really see why the City Council would block seating here, they just renovated,” Sadeghi said of Exchange Plaza.
Dan and Stephen Drotts, the owners of Z Pizza in City Plaza, are worried by the committee’s proposal. The Drotts’ say they’ve invested $500,000 in renovations to their building and were on the verge of completing the sidewalk dining permitting process before the committee voted on Tuesday.
“It’s critical to our business model,” Stephen Drotts said of outdoor seating. “If we don’t get it, we’re pretty much done.”
There’s 16 feet of vacant space between the front of Z Pizza and a flower bed. The Drotts’ sidewalk seating plan would leave 8 feet of walking space. The purpose of plazas is to generate activity, Stephen Drotts’ said, and Z Pizza is often the only plaza restaurant open late at night.
“If you don’t want to be near activity, don’t come to Fayetteville Street,” he said.
Crowder said she sympathizes with Z Pizza and hopes the owners can figure out a business model that works if the council doesn’t approve their request for sidewalk seating.
“I do think it’s a little, a little off when someone is buying outdoor furniture or making that kind of investment when they don’t have a permit yet,” she said. “I’m not sure from a business practice if I would have made that decision.”
Z Pizza bought its outdoor furniture about five years ago when it had an outdoor dining permit, Stephen Drotts said.