While walking around the intersection of 28th and Nicollet, I noticed how the in-ground trees, the planters, and the tables, chairs, and umbrellas for sidewalk dining all made for an attractive urban landscape.
And I noticed that the less-than-five-feet of clearance between the tables and the buildings does not seem to be an issue.
Why do I mention it? Because the issue is back before the Northfield City Council this week as staff have brought back two options for trees on 4th St. reconstruction, one of which seems to include some faulty assumptions.
Northfield’s sidewalk dining ordinance has been in effect since early 2008 but only one establishment has taken advantage of the alcohol clause: the HideAway Coffeehouse and Winebar. Five others have not. It might be helpful to find out why.
At least one Division Street merchant is experiencing disappointment and some financial hardship because of an outdoor seating ordinance city councilmen approved in May, and she is hoping the councilmen will consider amending it before next summer.
Eileen Seeley said on Monday her customers were disappointed when she hauled her outdoor chairs and tables back inside the Cocoa Bean following the ordinance enactment. But, she could not afford to pay for the additional insurance coverage she would need to qualify for the new outdoor seating permit.
She pays for a $1 million policy now, she said. But, she would need to pay $500 more a year leap to the $1.5 million tier in order to qualify for a permit. Seeley explained she would technically only need a $1.2 million policy, but her insurance provider would not sell her a policy between standard tiers. Seeley said she felt city officials did not recognize how that repercussion could negatively affect businesses like hers.
When councilmen approved the ordinance in May, they did so with the knowledge that the ordinance might have to change later on to accommodate the concerns of at least three different downtown merchants, according to an article published at that time in the Northfield News.
The ordinance remains unchanged so far, but councilmen are scheduled to review the ordinance again in May, Brian O’Connell, Northfield Community Development Director, said on Wednesday.
“The ordinance was enacted for a period of one year, so it dies at end of that year,” O’Connell said.
The concerns Seeley had about the ordinance when councilmen first discussed it are largely the same today. The primary goals of the outdoor seating ordinance are to regulate the consumption of food and alcohol outdoors on public property, O’Connell said.
Seeley’s business serves food but not alcohol. She said the city should consider regulating only the consumption of alcohol. Food-vendors that do not serve alcohol, she said, should be considered more like the adjacent retail businesses, which may have outdoor seating and sidewalk displays without obtaining the new permit.
O’Connell said he has been aware of Seeley’s concerns and has recognized the unfairness of regulating the sidewalks in front food and alcohol vendors but not those in front of retail stores. O’Connell explained that at the time councilmen enacted the ordinance, they only had time to discuss regulating food and alcohol consumption. The matter of regulating the sidewalks in front of retail stores could be something the councilmen address in the future.
“First and foremost, it’s the city’s responsibility to manage property that the city owns,” O’Connell said of the ordinance. “The sidewalks are public property. The city wanted outdoor dining and wanted to have people sit outside and have a glass of wine or beer. But, we felt we needed to have some standard requirement in order to allow that to occur.”
Should the ordinance remain in place, Seeley said she would explore a possible loophole in the city’s statutes that could allow her to place objects within a 5-foot distance from the front of her store without additional permitting.
There’s another special Northfield City Council meeting at 7pm to A) approve an outdoor dining permit; B) approve board/commission appointments; and C) consider proposal for Al Roder’s separation agreement
A Council Work Session follows to discuss: A) Commuter service; B) Energy Task Force; and C) Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force
Jim and Joan Spaulding’s establishment was the first in town to complete the required paperwork, and set up tables and chairs with the proper boundary. They began serving alcoholic beverages last weekend.
Alas, we were told by one of the HideAway’s staff that Northfield City staff told them on Monday they had to stop. Some sort of approval was required by the City Council. Huh?
I phoned Joan this morning to confirm. She said was contacted by the City of Northfield’s Housing and Redevelopment Division staff person Michele Merxbauer on Monday and told that the City Council had to approve the deal before they could begin serving. She appealed to Community Development Director Brian O’Connell, to no avail. It was too late to get it on the Council agenda for Monday’s meeting, so they’d have to wait another two weeks till the next Council meeting.
The Spaulding’s busted their butts to get this in place for today’s Crazy Daze, so naturally, they’re angry. I’m angry that Brian and Michelle did not inform me or Ross (with his NDDC hat on) about this since we’ve worked on this for over two years. Nothing about this approval-of-each-applicant-by-the-Council requirement was mentioned when the ordinance was approved (May 19 minutes) nor when the fees were approved at the July 7 meeting (agenda packet p. 31). The Northfield municipal code has not yet been updated as per the Council’s directive:
ORDINANCE NO. 878 – AMENDING NORTHFIELD CODE CHAPTER 6, ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, ARTICLE II, RETAILERS, DIVISION 2, LICENSE, BY ADDING NEW SEC. 6-70, TEMPORARY EXPANSION OF LICENSED PREMISES; OUTDOOR SALES AND SERVICE, AND AMENDING NORTHFIELD CODE CHAPTER 14, BUSINESSES, BY ADDING NEW ARTICLE V, OUTDOOR FOOD AND BEVERAGE SERVICE.
The March 17 version of the Temporary Expansion of Licensed Premises ordinance (PDF) has language that could be interpreted to meant that the Council has to approve every single application but I’m guessing that the Councilors had no idea that they’d have to do this… and that it would add at least two weeks to the process for a business owner. If I’d known, I’d have lobbied to have the language changed. It’s a Mickey Mouse requirement for businesses that already have gotten approval for their liquor licenses. City staff should be able to make the decision.
Finally, let us remember that this process continues. We should follow the implementation, gather feedback from the businesses affected by the new ordinance, note the anticipated “sunrise” that follows the “sunset” of this ordinance next Spring, and be alert to any additional ordinances that may be proposed to change the way that the private sector may share the public space. Our work is never done.
The sidewalk dining ordinance passed back in May but at last night’s City Council meeting, the Council unanimously passed the permit fee structure: no cost till at least next May, 2009. Yay! Community Development Director Brian O’Connell said to me that he’ll have one of the City’s summer interns visit all downtown establishments in person Real Soon Now with a simple permit form for them to sign.
Left: After I left the Council meeting, I found some of the NDDC board members at the Cow, socializing a bit after a meeting. I told them the news. See the happy thumbs. Center: Division street could soon be looking like 14th Av. SE in Dinkytown, in front of the Loring Pasta Bar. Right: Eventually, sidewalk dining could spill out onto Division St. like this restaurant in Monterossa al Mare in the Cinque Terre region of Italy.
We raised the issue of sidewalk dining (with alcohol) in a 10-minute discussion on Locally Grown podcast #7 back in Feb. of 2006. The NDDC raised the issue way back in April of 2005. They added it to their agenda for downtown and we’ve both been pursuing the issue ever since. Here’s an index of blog posts:
Under the proposed new sidewalk dining ordinance, would the above type of sidewalk consumption of non-alcoholic food and beverages not be allowed anymore unless the business got a permit? In the second paragraph of the ordinance, there is a sentence that reads:
“Similarly, and as provided by chapter 14, article V of this code, a purveyor of food and beverages on premises located in such districts who is not a liquor licensee may, on an annual basis, apply for a permit to use such an area for the sale and service of food and beverages other than alcoholic beverages.”
Would it matter if customers just carry out their purchases for consumption on the sidewalk, but the establishment’s wait-staff don’t sell or service on the sidewalk?
Speaking before the council Monday, Summa wondered why the proposal didn’t include the word “sidewalk,” requires a landlord to consent if their tenant takes advantage of the ordinance, and asks business owners to carry more than $1 million in insurance.