News: CJ Exclusives

Committee: Outdoor Dining Enforcement Weak

Current rules extended to Aug. 1, alternative revision plans being discussed

RALEIGH — A discussion Tuesday of alternative plans to regulate outdoor dining at Raleigh’s Law and Public Safety Committee saw city staffers agree that safety and “vibrancy” concerns with the Outdoor Dining Ordinance exist largely because of weak enforcement of rules.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Travis Crane told the committee that only one zoning inspector is employed to patrol the downtown area for violations of the Outdoor Dining Ordinance. A request has been made to the city for more money for additional staff, Crane said.

“One of the things I was a little bit shocked by initially is that we have a zoning officer who goes home around 5 or 5:30 p.m.,” Assistant City Manager Marchell Adams David said. “The festivities start at dark. It’s very difficult for the Raleigh Police Department to enforce zoning violations when they’re out there trying to manage the crowd.”

David, whose office was tasked with finding alternate solutions to the original proposed PUPS text change, said that additional RPD patrol would be assigned to help enforce PUPS regulations.

Public safety and pedestrian traffic issues brought to the city’s attention in mid-May spurred a proposal to revise the Private Use of Public Spaces (PUPS) handbook. The original proposed change, which would ban patio dining for establishments that make less than 30 percent of revenue from food, brought protests from owners of several downtown pubs, many of whom feel the new rules were sprung on them with little or no notice.

“Nobody was consulted on the hospitality side about this ordinance. It kind of just came and dropped on our heads out of the blue,” said Zack Medford, owner of Paddy O’Beers on Fayetteville Street.

In addition to beefing up PUPS enforcement, the committee moved to extend all outdoor dining permits until Aug. 1 to allow more discussion of the three revision versions being discussed.

Both alternates to the original plan would allow drinking establishments to maintain patio permits under specific parameters. The first would consider patio occupancy numbers, space, alcohol containment, and sidewalk clearance for pedestrians. The second option would add time restrictions to that list, and would require that alcoholic beverages be served only at tables.

City staffers also concluded that outdoor dining areas may remain on sidewalks for Raleigh’s July 4 celebration, provided those areas are defined by stanchions and provide at least seven feet of space for pedestrians.

Additionally, the committee voted to establish a hospitality committee made up of affected restaurant and private club owners from the downtown area, and to allow discussion about PUPS enforcement and regulations.

“It’s worth it to take all of these problems and find solutions together, sitting us down at the table and saying, ‘Guys, here are the issues, and here’s how can we fix them,’” said Paddy O’Beers’ Medford.

Kari Travis is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.