As a follow up to my previous post on the latest round of the outdoor patio ordinance, Council Member Tuthill and Minneapolis Licensing’s Linda Roberts came out to meet with Uptown restaurateurs about the proposed outdoor patio ordinance change. The meeting was the result of a promise that Council Member Tuthill gave the group several months ago when the ordinance went back to the drawing boards.
The 20 individuals at the meeting represented a broad cross section of Uptown area establishments and several business and trade organizations. Tuthill and Roberts outlined the the purpose of the amendment, which is to address residential complaints on livability issues that usually come out at license hearings and after the problem occurs but without documentation. Issues like noise often don’t get documented because there is a need to come out and measure the noise, they said. There was mention that the State’s decision to allow for 2am bar close a few years ago along with a Minneapolis City Council decision to allow bar patrons to stand outdoors, along with parking requirements being eased on restaurants could all be contributors to livability issues. According to Tuthill, those complaining about livability issues “want a balance” between the nightlife of Uptown and the calmness of living in the neighborhood.
Tuthill stated that the problem is late night noise in the neighborhood. At times during the meeting, it was confusing as to whether the noise issue is obnoxious drunks making loud noise in the neighborhood, thus waking people up, or rather an issue of a loud ambient noise. There was also mention by Tuthill that residents were sick of having to pick up trash and find puke in their yard.
Operators and Tuthill agreed that there were unruly drunks that need to be better managed, as they can become trouble makers.
Tuthill talked about people being too cheap to park at public parking facilities in Uptown and instead park in the neighborhoods. According to her, the parking facilities in Uptown have significant capacity at 12:30am. One solution suggested by an attendee was to add permit parking to the neighborhood, which Tuthill said some blocks were considering. Unfortunately, the implication was that permit parking’s implementation was going to be on a block by block basis with little to no coordination, which would likely shift the problem from one block to another as there would be no consistency or thoughtful plan on how to manage public parking.
One well received solution was Tuthill’s plan to add taxi stands to several locations in Uptown, generally near Lagoon Avenue between Hennepin and Fremont Avenue. The operators agreed that the quicker guests can get into taxis and get home, the fewer undesirable incidents would take place.
Operators mentioned that more police were needed but Tuthill quickly stated that “cops horsing around with drunks while residents wait 25 to 45 minutes” for a police response was frustrating and unacceptable. The operators replied that they were funding the extra cops at their expense. This response by Tuthill, that late night activity in Uptown’s business district were degrading service to other communities, has been poorly received by many in the business district. Outside of the meeting, numerous operators have told me that they generate sizable sales tax and pay very high property taxes to the City and if they require police protection at hours other than 8 to 5, then that’s the City’s deal to fund cops. They also stated that they already fund bouncers and off duty cops to help manage their business and those individuals often patrol outside their establishment. They are willing to fund additional cops at their expense to a certain extent but that it’s one of the City Council’s primary responsibilities to protect the public through police service.
But what most were interested in was the Tuthill ordinance change to outdoor patios. How would this ordinance change aide in dealing with late night noise and drunks?
The solution in the Tuthill ordinance change is to establish capacity limits for outdoor patios, cease amplified noise after 10pm, and allow the City unbelievable powers to strip away patio hours with little reason despite whether an operator is operating legally.
The capacity limits discussion focused mostly on how capacity would be determined and how operators generally were wary of the calculation and characterization of capacity. The City said it hasn’t figured out how to determine capacity yet but that generally anyone within the outdoor areas of a restaurant (as opposed to a public sidewalk) would be attributed against the capacity of the outdoor area.
An operator brought up her concern about smokers stepping outside to smoke and whether that would impact their ability to seat people outside. It sounded like, though I can’t substantiate this, that if the smoker goes outside onto a sidewalk without a drink and outside of the patio area, that the person would not be counted against the capacity. However, if they step into the outdoor patio area with or without a drink, they would likely be considered a patron of the outdoor area. Tuthill mentioned that the City would expect operators to know real time capacity of the outdoor areas and said most operators are already tracking that indoors. The purpose of this, from what I could tell, is to allow inspectors to be able to compare what the operator believes is going on to what is going on when they inspect the place.
The outdoor amplified noise restriction at 10pm was met with significant criticism by operators. Multiple operators pointed out that if the issue is obnoxious drunks in the neighborhood, outdoor music at patios wouldn’t do anything to stop it. Tuthill made a comment about how people talk louder and louder as music volume increases and so the noise coming from a patio can get to a high level. Roberts discussed how they have difficulty in policing outdoor areas because the establishment will have their music too high and then turn it down when an inspector tells them to, only to return later to find it up again. Tuthill said that by shutting off music at 10pm, it’ll make it a lot easier to regulate as if it’s on, it’s clearly violating the ordinance versus a subjective review by someone without monitoring equipment. One operator said that when they design their business concept they take everything into consideration, from service, food, beverage, furniture, wall coverings, music, etc, and to cut out music would negatively impact their business.
The “elephant in the room” that I brought up is the ability of the City Council to change hours of operations on existing outdoor patios for as little of a reason as “proximity of residential dwellings.” In this case, the City Council would have the ability to pick and choose randomly what constituted too close to a residential dwelling and as such, could discriminate against operators they didn’t like or allow certain neighborhoods or neighbors to damage businesses with little reason.
I also pointed out that while Tuthill has stated that individual operators in Uptown aren’t operating louder than permitted, she believes the aggregate of their operations are creating a loud situation in Uptown, therefore, could this ordinance provision allow the City Council the ability to reconstitute the hours of operations on all Uptown outdoor patios because the City could consider them “too close” to residential dwellings? Tuthill’s response was that if that was she or Roberts’ intent, they would simply propose that. That comment did little to persuade attendees that the provision was necessary. In fact, neither Tuthill or Roberts explained why that provision is necessary. Roberts did stress that the second part of the ordinance language about hour changes uses legal language that has certain findings that would need to be found, but seemed interested in revisiting the residential proximity issue, as that language appears to be outside of that legal finding reference. That said, Roberts seemed genuinely interested in revisiting it.
This ordinance proposal still has not clearly defined the problem that exists and has not proposed solutions that are tied to the assumed problem. Tuthill stresses that there are problems that most agree are unacceptable (such as finding puke in your yard) but hasn’t connected the dots on how these issues will be fixed through her ordinance change. Tuthill has proposed taxi stands, which both she and operators believe will help get drunks home sooner and will be less likely to cause trouble either in the business district or surrounding residential areas.
Perhaps most concerning is that there appear to be some deep rooted opinions by Tuthill that Uptown businesses are sucking up police resources and that those parking in the neighborhoods are almost exclusively outsiders from Uptown that are from the suburbs who are too cheap to pay to park. There is little acknowledgment by her that people in her neighborhood are hanging out in their backyards having a few too many and that many of her constituents are going out at night and coming home drunk. Certainly there are some from outside of the community who park in the neighborhood, but there’s no data that’s been presented to identify the amount of people who are doing that and why they’re parking there. It could be that some of those people are parking there to meet up with a friend who lives in the neighborhood before walking up to the bars.