City receives input on outdoor cafe seating for downtown

WENDY STIVER/THE EXPRESS Josh Grimes, right, uses a tape measure to indicate how far back from the curb sidewalk tables and chairs might be set up in downtown Lock Haven. Watching him measure are, from left, Julie Brennan who is with the Clinton County Economic Partnership, City Councilman Ted Forbes, Mayor William E. Baney III, and Assistant City Manager Gregory J. Wilson.

LOCK HAVEN — Imagine enjoying your coffee, or an artisan hamburger, or a Texas hot dog, or an entire meal, outdoors at a cafe table on Main Street?

Mayor William E. Baney III has imagined it, shared that vision, and encouraged the city to make it a reality.

Last week a group of interested officials sat down together to review a set of proposed regulations for this type of seating.

It’s a busy time of year for City Council with all the budget work for 2017 just beginning, but once that is completed, the idea of regulations will probably come back around to council as early as January.

“I know I’ll be applying,” said Josh Grimes. He is co-owner of Odd Fellas restaurant, president of Avenue 209 Coffee House, and president of the Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Board of Directors.

He called the session last week at the Downtown Inc. office for everyone interested, and those who attended included the mayor, City Councilman Ted Forbes, Downtown Manager Natasha Gorham, Clinton County Economic Partnership Tourism/Chamber Director Julie Brennan, and Assistant City Manager Gregory J. Wilson.

The draft ordinance is based on ordinances used in Reading and Lancaster, the mayor said.

The draft includes these stipulations:

r The cafe must be in the central business district.

r It must get a license every year from the city. The fee will be based on seating capacity, and an inspection will be done before the license is issued each year.

r The owner must have liability insurance.

r The owner must have the appropriate liquor license if he wishes to serve alcohol in a sidewalk seating area.

r All food preparation must be done in a restaurant.

r The restaurant must pick up all litter within 15 feet of the cafe.

r The cafe has to factor in a pedestrian walkway with a clear width of whatever footage the handicapped-accessible requirements call for. (This might be four feet, Grimes said.)

r No fence, walls, platforms or other structures enclosed by fixed walls are allowed. Temporary balustrades, cords and railings are allowed as long as they aren’t in the pedestrian walkway.

r Canopies and awnings may be set up, but not a permanent roof.

r All customers must be seated to be served.

r Glassware must be break-resistant.

r All cafes must be removed for winter before Nov. 16 and not be re-installed until April 1. On particularly nice days between these dates, tables and chairs may be moved outdoors, but only for the day.

r The Historic District Advisory Committee will weigh in on any proposed cafes in the historic district.

r There also are restrictions about business entrances, cross walks, fire hydrants, the curb line and similar features of the streetscape.

r If a place goes out of business, the cafe can’t be left outside.

At the meeting, Forbes asked about the fees. They will be based not just on seating capacity, but also on how much city staff time the average sidewalk cafe will take up, according to Wilson.

Grimes suggested the fees be waived for the first year to help drum up excitement among the business community for this new opportunity.

Council might decide to do that, Wilson said. If the fees are waived, the costs of staff time would fall onto all the city’s taxpayers and that should be considered. On the other hand, council might decide that a healthy downtown benefits everyone, and adding cafe seating will add to the downtown’s vitality.

The ordinance would allow outdoor seating in the downtown, Wilson said, but individual restaurants outside of the central business district may ask council for permission to follow suit.

Forbes again raised the idea of instituting a smoking ban in the outdoor seating areas, and Wilson said the city’s solicitor could give an opinion on it.

Forbes also asked again why the outdoor seating should be banned between Nov. 15 and April 1. The idea seems to be that not only would snow-covered tables be unsightly, they also would be in the way. After significant snowfalls, the city sends a sidewalk brush vehicle out along downtown Main Street, Wilson explained.

Restaurant owners may have outdoor seating between those two dates, according to the draft ordinance, but must bring in their tables and chairs at “sundown.” The mayor suggested the cut-off time could be changed, but said establishing a certain time of the evening or night to bring in seating discourages people from taking an indoor party outdoors.

“I do not want this to become a drunkfest in the downtown,” he said.

He said he has talked with restaurant owners, including the owners of The Saloon, Main Street Cafe, The Old Corner and Stella A’s, and everyone agrees they don’t want to see that either.

Grimes asked about the music ban that appears in the draft, and Wilson said the ban may not be necessary at all, since the city already has a nuisance ordinance that covers loud music.

He said he will change some things in the draft based on the meeting and will pass on the comments to all city council members.

The ordinance should be on council’s agenda early in 2017, he said, so that interested restaurant owners have enough time to order equipment and apply for liquor licenses before April 1.