The Raleigh Appearance Commission’s recommendation for outdoor dining regulations, approved unanimously March 17 for city council review in April, could turn some of the city’s previous rules upside down.
The new proposal, which addresses signage, furniture, capacity, and delineation for sidewalk dining spaces, would eliminate stanchions except for special circumstances, said Brian O’Haver, chairman of the commission. The commission instead has proposed using medallions — markers that would be laid into the sidewalk — to delineate patio space.
Additionally, the proposal urges council members to lift the current patio capacity limit of 15 square feet per person, allowing more flexibility to manage space.
“If you meet all of your clearance requirements and you end up at 14 square feet per person instead of 15 — you’ve got all of your clearances, and that’s the area that you have — we’re suggesting that council go back and take a look and perhaps allow that,” O’Haver said.
“We’re saying there could be situations where you could fit more people and still meet all of the requirements, so we think they should reconsider how they calculate [that],” he continued.
The proposal also would ban picnic tables from the Fayetteville Street corridor, but allow them on other streets downtown. Tables would be regulated to two or four-person capacity, and could remain on sidewalks when bars and restaurants were not open — so long as the furniture is accessible for public use.
“You can’t take a really small chain and chain [the furniture] all up so that you can’t use the tables during non-business hours,” O’Haver said. “[W]e’re saying is that it’s public space, and the argument is that these tables are for public use. They need to be for public use regardless of who the public is.”
Oversized “communal tables” that fall outside the proposal’s parameters, but that are not classified as picnic tables, also might be allowed, O’Haver said.
“We want to allow [business owners] to at least have that [request] considered,” he said. “Instead of putting that on city staff, we’re saying that if you go above this standard bar table size [42 inches by 42 inches], but meet [some] of those dimensions, then it could still be permissible,” he said. “But it would have to go through an additional design review…and we are suggesting that the Appearance Commission provide that.”
The commission’s recommendation is just one in a long string of efforts to resolve an ongoing controversy surrounding private use of public sidewalks in Raleigh’s downtown.
Conflict arose during May of last year when complaints about overcrowding, noise, and vibrancy along the Fayetteville Street corridor spurred the city council to take action. Initial recommendations involved stripping patio privileges from only bars and private clubs. Bar owners protested, and the city responded by proposing an alternate “pilot program” placing curfews and capacity limits on outdoor dining for both restaurants and bars.
The city council reviewed the three-month program late last year, making way for further discussion about the appearance of sidewalk furniture and stanchions. Members of the council moved that debate to the Appearance Commission for a six-week study and work session.
The study and review process instead took more than two months to complete.
The proposal will be reviewed this week by District E Council Member Bonner Gaylord, the city council’s liaison to the appearance commission. With Gaylord’s approval, the recommendation will be scheduled for consideration at the April 19 meeting of the city council, O’Haver said.
“It’s in great shape,” O’Haver said of the proposal process. “We’re just trying to put the last finishing touches on it.”