Answer Man: Sidewalk cafe owners, make room for pedestrians
Dear Answer Man, there's a city ordinance covering sidewalk cafes that requires them to allow enough room for pedestrians to get through, and it also requires the furniture to be brought in at night and certainly over the winter. Are you aware of how often some local restaurants violate the rules? I've pointed this out to city officials and nothing changes. — J.C.
I've written more than once about this. There's no bigger fan of sidewalk cafes than me, so it's not my intent to cause trouble here, but rules are rules, and the city's rules don't seem very effective on this.
City Clerk Aaron Reevesis the controlling legal authority on this — he's very aware of the complaints lodged by J.C., which I paraphrased above — and here's what he told me, by email:
"The city has not enforced the removing of outdoor furniture during non-open hours, as we have not had any issues with items left in place overnight and it is a logistical issue for the permit holders. We have been trying to be very diligent with enforcement of maintaining five-foot clearance on the sidewalks but this is always a challenge. We went out numerous times to inspect last year and responded to any complaints immediately. We will do the same again this year.
"I believe that all the sidewalk café permit holders are doing their best to maintain the required clearance and all have corrected any issues when notified," he said. "It's a careful balance of maintaining a vibrant downtown area while ensuring safe passage for all pedestrians, but I feel that we have been successful for the most part."
Understood, and some rules are more important than others. Still, it's important that sidewalks are first of all for pedestrians, and secondarily for businesses that want to expand their footprint in good weather. (This seems particularly relevant when some restaurant owners are expressing strong opinions on food trucks.)
And if the city's going to turn a blind eye to the overnight furniture issue, the City Council and the city attorney might want to do some spring cleaning in the ordinance department.