New ordinance causes some summertime disapointment

Customers sit at tables outside of the Cocoa Bean prior to the ordinance. Photo by Griff Wigley.
Customers sit at tables outside of the Cocoa Bean prior to the ordinance. Photo by Griff Wigley.

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.

Eileen Seeley removed the tables and chairs mid-summer. Photo by Griff Wigley.
Eileen Seeley removed the tables and chairs mid-summer. Photo by Griff Wigley.

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.


  1. Arlen Malecha said:

    I commend the city council for passing the outdoor dining ordinance. My wife and I took the opportunity to enjoy outdoor dining at the Hideaway this summer. Like anything new there are bound to be growing pains. In this instance the city and businesses will need to work together to overcome the issues.

    We have become a “I want it all and I want it now society”. I think many of the businesses wanted the ordinance to be perfect the first time it was passed. Although that would be nice it is not always possible.

    I hope business owners with concerns will sit down with city staff to not only voice their concerns but offer solutions as well so that the resolution can be tweaked to accomodate as many businesses as possible. Will everyone be happy, most likely not.

    The city staff and council should not wait until May to rework the ordinance they should start now so that the new and improved ordinance is passed no later than April and businesses can start utilizing the outdoor space as early as May.

    Northfield is a beautiful city and we should do what we can to preserve our downtown and make it appealing to not only Northfielders but visitors from far and wide.

    September 11, 2008
  2. Julie Bixby said:

    Since the city owns the sidewalks why are the businesses required to keep the snow clear in front of their stores? If the business owners take care of city owned property shouldn’t they be allowed to use at least a portion of it without added expense? (Alcohol outside on public property is an altogether different issue)
    It appears we are becoming a city of ordinances and regulations beyond what is necessary, IMHO.

    September 11, 2008
  3. Charlene Coulombe- Fiore said:

    Surely if someone fell in front of any store, the liabilty being a sidewalk, would still be a City liability issue, no ? Whether an outside ordinance is in place or not, I think the intent of the ordinance and licensing and insurance is to protect the City and the business owner. (no?)
    I would hope that some flexibility could not be provided to an ice cream parlor as the risk seems to be much less ???
    The insurance coverage seems a tad steep to me…1.2 million versus 1.5 million. A $300,000 liability for eating icecream outside?
    One would think an alcoholic beverage or food, such as mashed potatoes would be more of a risk than an icecream cone?
    Changes to the ordinance would only require a few sentences….

    September 11, 2008
  4. Anne Bretts said:

    It would seem that rather than waiting until spring, the NDDC should gather all the data from this summer, limited as it is, and create a report and recommendations for modification of the ordinance while the issue is fresh in everyone’s minds.
    The idea that an antique store can have tables and chairs and piles of stuff all over the sidewalk and leaning against walls and the ice cream shop can’t have an orderly set of tables and chairs outside seems to defy logic. Of course, logic has so little to do with law.

    September 11, 2008
  5. kiffi summa said:

    The outdoor dining ordinance has been discussed, in various forms for at least three years.
    Mr. O’Connell’s statement that the council did not have the time to discuss the differences between food service, and alcohol service, is not only specious, but rather demeaning to the council… and in fact to the capabilities of our professional staff. It sounds like a less than thoughtful excuse. (Sorry, Brian…)
    This has been a hot-button issue for at least the last two outdoor dining seasons. There was adequate time PRECEEDING this season, for staff and council to schedule this discussion, and work through the various issues.
    Why was the necessary political will not there to accomplish this long sought-after goal?
    The current ordinance took away what had always been a free opportunity for food establishments (not alcohol) to allow customers to eat outside, on the sidewalk, without fees, permits, extra insurance or other complications.
    So.. the end result was a restriction on business, not an enabling expansion.

    September 11, 2008
  6. Matt Sewich said:

    The $500 leap in insurance premiums baffles me, that seems like too big of a jump in premium.

    I don’t know the specifics however, if the liability limit talked about is the occurrence limit or aggregate limit for example.

    Just for the heck of it I ran a couple quotes with Auto Owners, I had to make up some numbers like property values, etc…

    The first quote I did was for a $1,000,000 per occurrence limit (aggregate is $2,000,000), the second quote I did was a $2,000,000 per occurrence limit (aggregate limit is $4,000,000) and the difference in premium was $71.32.

    Honestly the city should pick a $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 limit, easier for insurance agents and companies to work with. What we do normally for our downtown clients is the standard $1,000,000 General Liability (BOP) policy with a $1,000,000 Umbrella, it satisfies the requirement. I don’t know why the city would pick a $1,200,000 limit…no insurance company writes that.

    Finally an insurance issue on Locally Grown that I can respond to.


    September 11, 2008
  7. Charlene Coulombe- Fiore said:

    If one would just google “outdoor dining ordinances” Google is happy to provide a series of communties that have passed such ordinances without any mention of insurance or major concerns. The majority of the issues had to do with “how many tables to allow” and how it is important to assist the business community.

    I know Ross spent a great deal of time over the years trying to make it happen. Hopefully soon things will get easier in Northfield.

    September 11, 2008
  8. Glad to see this story inspired some discussion and further questions. I will see if I can get some of them answered.

    A few of my questions are:

    Are there any other regulations Northfield has that possibly should be amended?

    Are there any regulations that should exist that don’t already? Or is there anything you think city officials could easily do to help the city’s merchants with their businesses in some way?

    September 15, 2008

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