King Street dining gets a positive thumbs up

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Outdoor dining has been a reality for 36 restaurants in Old Town for two years and this past Saturday, City Council heard about its success.

Generally, everything has gone very well since we first piloted this concept in 2005, said Valerie

Petersen, a member of the Planning Department staff. We surveyed the restaurants this spring and found that most of them were complying with the ordinance and we are working with those who had violations.

Violations most often found were restaurants encroaching further than allowed into the public right-of-way, making the sidewalk nearly impassable. Curbside dining seems to be the worst because pedestrians walk into waiters with trays just to get past, said Councilman Paul Smedberg. I even hesitate to walk through these paths sometimes because Im not certain its a public sidewalk. We have to look at this.

Also, there is the issue of the furniture. It shouldnt look like you just threw your old patio furniture out onto the street but sometimes we get too hung up on little things like color when we should focus on the bigger picture, Smedberg said. I think it would be alright to allow people to choose a different color to go with their color scheme and to set them apart.

The city requires restaurants to have a barrier with a straight edge along the sidewalk so that visually impaired pedestrians who are using canes can easily tell where they are. We have had varying degrees of compliance with this rule and are working with everyone, Petersen said.

Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet spoke about dogs in outdoor dining areas. I dont believe that the health department or any regulation permits people to sit at tables with their dogs on their laps and yet I have seen this happen, she said. The most frequent code violations happen on weekends when the restaurants are the busiest and when code enforcement staff does not work. If you want people to comply with the law, you have to enforce it, she said.

Council asked the planning staff to bring the ordinance back for action at the June 26 meeting. Lets take a look at the issue of suitability of furniture, the curbside dining and encroachment into the public right-of-way and not leaving the required five feet of clear passage, at the issue of protecting the trees with something other than just mulch and see if we cant tighten the language so that enforcement is easier, said Mayor William Euille.

Council is likely to pass the ordinance to continue outdoor dining from April 1 to Nov. 15 and to include language that makes furniture and umbrella choices more uniform.

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