Changes to downtown Raleigh sidewalk rules upset business owners

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Just as summer begins, some restaurant owners in Downtown Raleigh are concerned about new rules regarding outdoor seating that will force them to remove some tables or make other changes at their businesses.

“This is after we invested in all new furniture for out here so that we could comply with the latest ordinance,” said Angela Salamanca, owner of Centro, a Mexican restaurant on Wilmington Street.

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City spokesman John Boyette said the Raleigh City Council approved the changes April 17.

Several restaurant owners told CBS 17 they only learned about the changes this month as they undergo the process of renewing their permits.

“And, I think the city has done a great job about helping the city grow, but this outdoor situation has not been handled well,” said Salamanca.

In an email, a city spokesman summarized the changes as follows:

  • Addition of a definition of  “meandering path.” The previous ordinance allowed the pedestrian path to meander, or shift, on the public sidewalk. This ordinance does not allow the outdoor seating to cause a meandering path. There must be a clear and straight path for pedestrians. This ordinance also defines what size encroachments may occur within the pedestrian path.
  • Change to the required distance between tree grates and the outdoor seating area. The previous ordinance required a five foot radius from a street tree, which was measured from the tree trunk. This revised ordinance requires the outdoor seating area to be located at least two-feet from the edge of the tree grate.  
  • Created a distinction for where outdoor seating can be located based on the width of the sidewalk. For sidewalks at least 14 feet in width, outdoor seating may occur on the curb edge, the building edge, or both. For sidewalks between 10-14 feet in width, the outdoor seating area may occur either on the curb edge or building edge. For sidewalks less than 10 feet in width, the outdoor seating may only occur on the curb edge.   

In the case of Woody’s at City Market, owner Joe Hatch says he’ll have to remove four tables on Parham Street, each representing about $20,000 in potential revenue each year. 

Council member Nicole Stewart said the intention behind the revised regulations is to create clear pathways for people walking or using wheelchairs.

“The general idea was to create a more accessible downtown,” she said. “There have been some unintended consequences.”

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance has heard from some business owners who’d like to see a compromise solution that wouldn’t have as much of an impact on the number of tables they can have outside, and ultimately their revenues.

“We believe that their intent to improve accessibility comes from a good place, but also recognize that changes may have created some unintended complexity when applied to downtown’s diverse shape and conditions. We hope that better understanding the specifics of each condition will provide insight into an approach that accomplishes accessibility without significant reductions to patio dining,” wrote Downtown Raleigh Alliance President and CEO Kris Larson in an email.

Salamanca says she wants to see consistency and a recognition of the differences on one street to the next.

“There were so many changes. They were requiring so many things. And, it was hard to get a clear idea,” she said. “How can we level the playing field when it comes to the outdoor seating ordinance?”

That’s something Stewart says she wants to discuss.

She said, “City Market has its own challenges. The Warehouse District has its own set of challenges. And so, that’s why I think we really need to be working with business to figure out the best path forward.” 
 

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