Here’s what Raleigh’s outdoor drinking ordinance will (probably) look like | News
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Here’s what Raleigh’s outdoor drinking ordinance will (probably) look like

Posted by on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 6:13 PM

click to enlarge Zack Medford, owner of Paddy O’Beers and other downtown dens of intoxication - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Zack Medford, owner of Paddy O’Beers and other downtown dens of intoxication


Derrick Remer, the city of Raleigh’s emergency management and special events manager, had an idea of what this afternoon’s hospitality task force meeting was going to look like: Because the task force of downtown stakeholders—mainly small business owners and managers, with one resident representative—that he was helping facilitate had, after six weeks or so or these sessions, been unable to congeal around a single proposal to regulate outdoor drinking on public sidewalks in downtown Raleigh, it would be better to just go over four wide-ranging options, which would all then be presented to the City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. (The hearing is at 3 p.m. in Room 305 of City Hall, in case you’re interested.)

Those options range from the very strict (only eating establishments could use public sidewalks, not bars that don’t serve food, and would have to shut down by 11 p.m. every night) to the moderately strict (midnight shutdown) to the loose-with-a-catch (2:30 a.m., but with a permit fee that could rise from $150 a year to, in some cases, $4,000 a year to pay for extra enforcement). In all cases, Remer imagined that capacity would be limited to one person for every 15 square feet of outdoor space. (In other words, if your space is 10 feet by 10 feet, you’d be limited to six or seven people at a time.) 

“We’re probably not going to come to a consensus,” Remer told the group. Later, he added that the task force wasn’t created to reach a conclusion but rather to develop and discuss options; it wasn’t sufficiently balanced between bar owners and residents to do the former.  

(It’s worth noting that, although Remer said the first option, prohibiting non-restaurant bars from obtaining outdoor use permits, “is still on the table,” that was exactly what Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said during the LPS committee meeting in June that ended with the creation of this task force. Apparently staff didn’t get the memo.)

Except the task force members didn’t see it that way. What Remer and the other staff members didn’t know was that on Tuesday, Paddy O’Beers owner Zack Medford and five other hospitality stakeholders held a private meeting where they hashed out their own compromise. It looks like this:
 
  • Occupancy would be determined by the state building code, meaning: If you have fixed tables and chairs, you are limited to 15 square feet per person. If you have more transient furniture, like folding chairs, you are limited to seven square feet per person. If you have standing room only, it’s five square feet per person. For each bar, city officials would determine the magic number after reviewing a sketch of the furniture and space. 

  • Outdoor use would be cut off ay 2 a.m., and stanchions would be required after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Bars and restaurants would have to have a manager on duty after 10 p.m.; this manager is in charge of compliance and dealing the Raleigh PD. 

  • The bars would be responsible for ensuring their areas were clean. 

  • Permits would cost $250 a year, a 75 percent increase. 
Those six members circulated the proposal to the others ahead of today’s task force. There wasn’t universal agreement by any means, but it was grounds for hashing out … something. And if that was the case, the members decided they should try to agree on something, or at least on most things, rather than throwing up their arms and surrendering to staff, who some of them felt were trying to impose their agenda on the task force. 

As Medford told me in a Facebook message after the previous week’s meeting: 

Seems like whenever the group is moving towards consensus, staff suddenly backtracks to remind us unproductive things like "these are sidewalks not patios" and "it's a privilege". This was our fourth meeting, I think we should be past that point and focused on solutions.

“So those are the options that will be presented to City Council?” asked Joe Durham, a former Wake County manager who was representing residents on the task force. “No recommendation from this group? No recommendation from staff? … It’s not effective. I don’t see it as being effective.” 

Ashley Melville, the representative from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said, “I’m very confident we can come to consensus,” and at that point, Medford and ShopLocal Raleigh executive director Jen Martin unveiled their proposal. Indeed, within a matter of minutes, consensus had developed with respect to all but one major point: occupancy. I’ll come back to that in the a minute. 

The consensus looked a lot like Medford et al.’s proposal. A suggestion to allow bars to use the sidewalks in front of adjoining properties with permission from the building owner was nixed, as this would run afoul of ABC rules. And the group agreed to go along with staff’s more punitive violation fines and raise the permit fee to $300. It took some discussion, but eventually the task force voted in favor of Medford’s group’s more generous occupancy limits. (This made staff members uneasy, as the current code was written only for seating, not for standing, and it’s possible we haven’t heard the last of this issue.) 

Almost there—except for time. And here, after nearly two hours of debate, the task force split into two camps. They all agreed that the sidewalk patios should shut down at midnight Sunday through Thursday, which is something downtown residents, who have complained about noise, would probably appreciate. The question was whether to do the same for weekend nights. About half of the task force agreed with that—it’s what Chicago does, Andrew Stewart of Empire Properties pointed out. 

But for the other half, including Medford, this was a deal-killer. Medford later explained to me that 90 percent of his weekend business at places at Paddy O’Beers and (especially) Coglin’s comes between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Cutting him off at midnight would be a deep blow. (Dan Lovenheim, owner of Capital City Tavern and other bars, said after the meeting that this was “insane and foolish. … We’ve made the right decisions [in downtown] for almost a decade now. We’re about to make a wrong one.” He is not a task force member but attends the meetings.) Medford and some other bar owners pushed for the later time, explaining that to them this was already a compromise, as right now the patios can stay open until 2:30, even if they can no longer sell alcohol after 2.

Needless to say, staff certainly didn’t see it that way—from staff’s perspective, when they started this process they were going to cut off non-restaurants altogether, and now the bars wanted standing-room-only crowds until 2 a.m. In their eyes, that wasn’t much of a compromise. 

There was some talk of splitting the difference—1 a.m.—but Medford and other bar owners didn’t want to do that. Better, they said, to present both shutdown times to the committee on Tuesday, and let the three committee members figure it out. 

And that issue will dominate what will likely be a contentious Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, Tuesday, July 28 at 3 p.m. in Room 305 of City Hall, 222 W. Hargett St. That’s a conference room on the third floor, not the usual Council chambers, which seems an odd choice for what will probably be a well-attended meeting. 

We’ll, of course, see you there. After that, the City Council will take up the changes and probably vote on something at its next meeting, Aug. 4. 

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