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.