News: CJ Exclusives

Raleigh Sets Curfew for Outdoor Drinking, Dining

Three-month pilot plan requires stepped-up enforcement by police, firefighters

RALEIGH — After nearly two months of debate over crowd control, safety issues, and noise downtown, on Aug. 4, the Raleigh City Council approved a three-month pilot program placing curfews and maximum capacity rules on sidewalk patios.

With this provision, restaurants must stop serving patrons on sidewalks at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 1:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It also establishes a maximum capacity rule of 15 square feet per person for outdoor dining areas and requires outdoor areas where alcohol is served to be “delineated by clearly visible barriers,” separating them from public sidewalks.

While the plan addresses some concerns of restaurant owners, patrons, and residents, it still has holes, Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin said.

“What we were asked to look at was private use of public spaces,” said Baldwin to the council. “We weren’t asked to look at some of these other issues that are still out there.”

Noise is one of those issues, Baldwin said. And while she hopes reducing traffic on sidewalk patios will ease the problem, other members of the council are unconvinced.

“[I’m concerned] about reducing noise out on the street, not just the bar area in general,” said Councilman Russ Stephenson. “What sort of concrete measures are going to be included in this ordinance that are actually going to be effective in reducing continuous sidewalk revelry on these late nights?”

Downtown bar owners share the council’s concerns, but consider measures like a 1:00 a.m. weekend curfew impractical and likely to be ineffective.

“It’s going to be very hard to enforce [a curfew at] 1:00 a.m.,” said Zack Medford, owner of Fayetteville Street’s Paddy O’ Beers, noting that the cutoff for serving alcohol is 2:00 a.m. “It’s much more confusing. On top of that, if people can’t bring their drinks out past 1:00 a.m., they are still going to go outside. The only difference now is we [won’t] have door guys out there to calm them down.”

Councilmembers agreed that enforcement is essential to keeping late-night revelers calm and bars in compliance with regulations. But the city employs only one enforcement officer, leaving the task of maintaining order to the Raleigh Police Department and the Raleigh Fire Department, according to a provision in the pilot program.

“And we’re just very excited about that,” joked Deputy Police Chief Joseph Perry during a recent discussion about security and rule enforcement before the council’s Law and Public Safety Committee. “The police force’s primary concern, other than resources at this point, is the complexity that’s involved here. Particularly after midnight, downtown can get a little stressful,” he said.

RPD and the city manager’s office report 30 complaints were filed over the last 30 days, according to a report from the Raleigh City Attorney’s office. Half of those complaints regard overcrowding and lack of cleanliness. The other half are cited as noise-related issues.

Even though the three-month pilot program may not be a comprehensive solution, it should help the city to find out what does — or does not — work, Baldwin said.

“Some residents, the minority, believe that this is going to help contain noise,” said Jim Belt, co-founder and president of Downtown Living Advocates and a critic of what he considers excessive regulation by the city. “And I think there is strong evidence that it’s not going to make any difference. Noise [and] litter [are] a function of people congregating. Whether people congregate at midnight or 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., it’s still going to bother some people.”

Kari Travis (@karilynntravis) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.