City staff revisited the proposed changes to outdoor areas associated with businesses selling liquor, wine, or beer. The changes from the previous proposal aren’t substantial. The City Council’s Regulatory, Energy, and the Environment Committee will hold a public hearing on June 6th and potentially take action that day. The full City Council would potentially vote on it in mid June. Below is a summary of the changes, but you should read the ordinance itself (underlines and strike outs are changes to the existing ordinance):
- Downtown would be excluded from many of the provisions, and they’ve defined Downtown as everything inside the Mississippi River on the north, I-35W on the east, I-94 on the south and west, and I-394/3rd Ave N on the west.
- Each business outside of Downtown (why not also Downtown?) will have to a specified maximum customer capacity, which includes anyone sitting, standing, or present, including those waiting to be seated. There is no definition on how that capacity is reached, which at least one restaurateur told me is concerning due to the possible arbitrary determination that licensing could make.
- Outside of Downtown, no sound amplification or outdoor speakers after 10:00pm regardless of location. Council Member Tuthill, the ordinance’s author, had previously discussed this as necessary to curb general late night noise because she believes these speakers along with people talking are leading to loud ambient noise in the community. Apparently inspectors went out in Uptown last year and measured noise from several establishments and found that they were within the noise ordinance’s guidelines, so it’s not an issue of one or two businesses being too loud. One question that was raised to me by a resident was whether some of the noise that Council Member Tuthill is hearing is in fact from the many house gatherings and parties that take place in the Wedge during the summer.
- Outside of Downtown, there would have to be a sign asking people to be mindful of neighbors and list a phone number that would be answered by a person of authority to respond to problems. I’ve heard a couple of businesses say that if it has to be answered by the person of authority, as opposed to having them be reachable, then this is a more complicated issue as they’d have to have a dedicated line just for the authority person, which potentially would be a cost.
- The City would have the authority to reduce hours of operation of the outdoor area after the fact, simply due to the “proximity of the area to residential dwelling units, and upon considerations relating to the safety, repose, and welfare of residents, businesses, and other uses near the establishment.” Some, including myself, feel that this is concerning because it adds uncertainty to the business operation. The City already had authority to establish hours on a case-by-case basis so that they can take into consideration how close it is to homes and such. This would potentially lead to discrimination of a business for little reason other than some neighbors don’t like it and have convinced their council member that it’s too close to homes. If you’re a business and the City approves you for certain hours, you should be able to keep your hours unless you aren’t operating appropriately. A place like Stella’s, Cafeteria, It’s Greek to Me, etc may have underwritten their elaborate outdoor spaces in part due to income they receive between 10pm and their closing time, so businesses considering elaborate patios may not be able to do so if their lenders become uncomfortable with their longterm ability to collect revenue during those hours because of the possibility that the City would change their hours for little to no cause.
Some have read the ordinance and realized that there are a number of items that are in there that they don’t agree with. Some examples include:
- Outdoor areas outside of downtown can only have a Class E license, which essentially limits entertainment to the stereo system. No bands, even acoustic bands. Doesn’t matter what hours. This requirement is already in there and isn’t changing.
- Outside of downtown, there can’t be any outdoor bars for patrons to be at. This may surprise you, as I’m sure we can all think of some examples of outdoor bars. But do you sit at them? In some cases, these bars figured out loopholes in the system that have no been closed up. Service bars are allowed.
So if you have opinions, feel free to share them here but if you want your voice to be heard by City Hall, you should write to Business Licensing.