Raleigh Report

Raleigh limits sidewalk use by bars and restaurants downtown

City leaders are restricting the use of downtown sidewalks by bars and restaurants at night because they say patrons have become too loud and disruptive to residents.
City leaders are restricting the use of downtown sidewalks by bars and restaurants at night because they say patrons have become too loud and disruptive to residents. tjohnston@newsobserver.com

City leaders are restricting the use of downtown sidewalks by bars and restaurants at night because they say patrons have become too loud and disruptive to residents.

The Raleigh City Council voted 5-3 Tuesday to start closing city sidewalks to restaurants and bars at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

The new rules, which aim to reduce the number of people on the sidewalks around Fayetteville Street, also limit downtown bars and restaurants to serving one person per 15 square feet of their outdoor space.

Raleigh didn’t previously enforce any sidewalk curfew for such businesses. The new rules start Aug. 14, but the council plans to evaluate their effect on downtown noise and businesses after three months.

The idea of targeting night-time sidewalk use as a means of reducing noise has been intensely debated ever since the city attorney’s office proposed it earlier this summer. A night-time sidewalk curfew for restaurant and bar use on weekends was the most controversial aspect of the new rules.

Some bar owners said new restrictions would drastically affect their businesses. They used the mantra “save the patios” on social media platforms like Twitter to rally dozens of young people to city meetings on the issue.

Meanwhile, some residents said the noise made downtown unlivable – with a doctor arguing at one meeting that continued sleep loss could lead to obesity, diabetes and cancer.

On Tuesday, most council members said they considered a 1 a.m. sidewalk roll up to be a reasonable compromise between the status quo and pleas from residents to quiet the streets by midnight.

As with previous meetings, the number of bar supporters greatly outnumbered residents who supported efforts to restrict sidewalk use. And the meeting became tense at times when council members addressed bar supporters in the crowd.

“The term ‘patio’ is misused here because it is indeed a sidewalk,” Councilwoman Kay Crowder said. “It’s paid for by taxpayers. They’re subsidizing your businesses, so it’s important for you to follow the rules.”

Three council members – Mary-Ann Baldwin, Bonner Gaylord and Eugene Weeks – argued that the 1 a.m. plan will hurt businesses too much and curtail noise too little.

Gaylord suggested that most downtown noise occurs when bar patrons leave to go home when bars start closing around 2 a.m. By imposing a 1 a.m. sidewalk roll up – prompting some to go home and others to find an indoor bar – he said Raleigh is creating another activity period.

“It’s going to be a very noisy, disruptive endeavor at 1 a.m., and then it would happen again at 2 a.m.,” Gaylord said. “It’s sort of a split-the-baby solution where both sides end up with something worse.”

Baldwin, who proposed a 2 a.m. weekend shut down, said the city hadn’t effectively enforced existing sidewalk rules or communicated with bar owners about them.

“Many times it seemed like (a violation) would happen but the bar and restaurant owners wouldn’t know anything because issues were not communicated back to them,” she said.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane argued that late-night drinking and people blocking the sidewalk is also a safety issue.

“We can’t have somebody go down Fayetteville Street and get hit by a car because they can’t get down the sidewalk,” McFarlane said.

Zack Medford, who owns downtown bars Coglin’s, Paddy O’Beers and Common 414, handed out voter registration papers to passers-by outside City Hall after the meeting. Every council seat is up for election Oct. 6.

“Five people on city council think millennials and people in the service industry don’t vote,” Medford said. “We’ll see.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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