At a meeting Tuesday morning, members of a city economic development committee chaired by Mayor Nancy McFarlane approved a series of recommendations from another all-resident committee that made tweaks to Raleigh’s outdoor dining ordinance this winter.
The mayor plus three council members on the Economic Development and Innovation committee approved recommendations to prohibit outdoor dining in city plazas and accepted new recommendations regarding design standards, including furnishing and signage, to regulate outdoor seating.
These include potentially using medallions in the ground to delineate space in outdoor dining areas (as opposed to using stanchions), using sturdy, treated plastic or wooden furniture no larger than 42 cubic inches (no picnic tables on Fayetteville Street), and using mandatory signs in windows to display occupancy levels as defined by the existing 15-square-foot per person rule. Patrons could sit or stand within the occupancy area. Additionally the committee voted to invest about $25,000 in acquiring new furniture downtown for the public to use.
The committee, also comprised of Councilors Kay Crowder, Bonner Gaylord and Dickie Thompson, approved all of the recommendations unanimously, except the one prohibiting outdoor dining on city plazas.
Steve Drotts, who owns Z Pizza Tap Room in the Bank of America building on City Plaza, said at the meeting that the committee’s recommendation not to allow full-service outdoor dining in city-owned plazas (including City Plaza, and the newly renovated Market and Exchange Plazas) would be bad for his business, as well as bad for the city in terms of drawing people downtown.
Drotts is in the process of applying for a permit from the city to operate a full-service outdoor dining space. He noted that the city essentially provides free-seating for the self-service kiosks City Plaza which may not have indoor seating (like Jimmy John’s and Happy and Hale) by providing chairs and tables for members of the public to use while they’re hanging out there.
“We can provide a great experience for local people and tourists but we may go out of business if you guys do not allow us to have what amounts to a very small piece of City Plaza that we believe strongly enhances the plaza for people who want to come downtown,” Drotts said. “Restricting outdoor seating would be a huge mistake.”
Assistant city planning director Travis Crane said there are currently mechanisms in place for business owners to appeal to the council to ask for an exception to the outdoor dining ordinance if they want to operate on a plaza. Bolt, for example, operates outdoor dining on a plaza via a licensing agreement that was part of the owner’s negotiated lease. But the intent of the ordinance is not to allow business owners to have outdoor dining on plazas and under the ordinance, city staff would not have the flexibility to allow them to do so.
“I think having space downtown that allows some areas where you don’t have food and beverages being sold, a family could actually find a little place to eat off the kiosks, or a food truck, would be be a plus, not a negative,” said Councilor Crowder.
“I’m suggesting that I would be comfortable allowing all areas adjacent to the buildings, on the street or associated with the plaza, to be eligible for application for outdoor seating,” Gaylord said. “If you’ve got a great idea and you think you have a creative way to address it that won’t have a negative public impact, should we give ourselves the authority to hear that?”
Crane said the city council still would have the ability to grant special licensing agreements with businesses to operate outdoor dining spaces on the plazas “if it so chooses.” Still, Gaylord voted against separating city plaza spaces from the outdoor dining ordinance because, he said, “it means businesses would have to come directly before the council to appeal to us instead of there being a process, and I think a process [for business owners] would be better than no process.”
The changes to the ordinance were recommended several weeks earlier and went before the council in April, but were deferred so council members could give the proposals more consideration. The full council will review the recommendations at their meeting on June seventh.
You can see the resident committee’s full list of recommendations below.