St. Paul passes new sidewalk café ordinance

Months of work ended as St. Paul’s much-debated new regulations on sidewalk cafes and other retail uses of sidewalks were unanimously adopted by the City Council Janury19. The council adopted the regulations after three public hearings.   

 Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune, who authored the ordinance, said although the process was difficult, the city is now in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ordinance requires a 48-inch clear zone for sidewalks, as well as passing zones, and regulations on placement of sidewalk tables, planters and other fixtures. It also includes a requirement that sidewalk seating plans be displayed in a business.   

The ordinance as adopted dropped a requirement that would have forced sidewalk cafes at close at 10 p.m. Instead closing times will be set on a case-by-case basis. It also dropped a requirement that restaurants seek permits from city licensing and Public Works. Instead there will be just one permit.   

The mayor’s office had raised concerns about the ordinance, so Thune set up a meeting with mayoral cultural advisor Joe Spencer and members of the disability community to discuss concerns raised by business and people with disabilities.   

The ordinance was supported by the Mayor’s Advisory Council on People with Disabilities but raised concerns among restaurant owners. Some restaurants owners have tables and fixtures designed for the 36-inch distance requirement, not 48 inches. Others are in areas where sidewalks are narrow.   

Thune said city officials will do what they can to work with restaurants owners who have space issues, but also added that the city cannot continue to ignore federal law. Businesses will be informed of the new regulations starting this spring when they apply for permits to have tables and chairs on the sidewalks.   

The city’s review process may not be over. Pending federal regulations on sidewalk access could also add additional requirements during 2011, including the erection of fences to separate diners and sidewalk users. Federal ROWAG or right-of-way access guidelines are still being developed.   [Source: Access Press staff]

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