Those in Raleigh who advocated allowing restaurants to use sidewalks for outside dining years ago were right. Such a change, it was argued, would create an appealing option in a downtown with a growing nightlife.
Fair enough. And indeed, when the city allowed seating on public sidewalks seven years ago, it was refreshing. It helped many restaurants, in particular those with limited inside seating. It gave the downtown more of a festive air, which was particularly evident on First Fridays and during the first years of the International Bluegrass Music Association.
But al fresco dining was soon joined by al fresco drinking as seating appeared outside bars that do not serve food. Some downtown residents, including developer Greg Hatem, who took a chance on downtown when few others did, have complained that the city’s outdoor nightlife has gotten out of hand, with loud music pouring out of some bars and more noise coming from groups drinking outside.
The Raleigh City Council is about to consider a proposed change in a city ordinance that would curb the number of businesses allowed to use sidewalk seating. The change would limit outside seating to businesses whose overall sales are at least 30 percent from food. Bars without food service would no longer be able to offer seating on sidewalks.
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This sounds like an appropriate move, an evolution of sorts for downtown. The idea behind the outdoor seating, after all, was to help restaurants, not bars. And bars do bring noise, something that could be a problem as more spaces downtown are renovated or newly built as residences.
Raleigh’s downtown, much revitalized, remains a work in progress. The city has an obligation to revise the rules to encourage a downtown that’s alive, but not chaotic.