Council considers outdoor seating for downtown businesses


By Sheryl Roadcap - sroadcap@sidneydailynews.com



SIDNEY — The city of Sidney is working to develop outdoor dining areas on public sidewalks in the downtown area.

In conjunction with information on the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, at Monday’s Sidney City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Cundiff also provided a companion presentation on outdoor seating to support downtown businesses.

City staff and Sidney Alive are teaming up to create a pilot program, Cundiff said, to have outdoor seating areas for local restaurants in the public right of way.

Temporary seating would be installed, for this season only, and the data collected will help guide future decisions. The plan is to try out different designs to test what works best, based on the Pedlet (outdoor seating) concept. Most of the examples of pictures Cundiff showed to council had seating out in the summer and then were taken up in the winter. The seating extended out to the curb to the parking area out front.

“This proposal would temporarily take down some of the parking in the warm weather months, and then they would be taken up, so not to interfere with snow plowing and other items,” Cundiff explained of eliminating parking in some areas downtown.

There are several challenges with the plan, he acknowledged, including the following:

• Liquor permits — for acceptable enclosures out front of businesses; adjacent businesses requirements; and a timeline of area inspection/approval for any expanded liquor permits.

• A patio approval process and how the area will be built/configured. There may be questions about the application process/requirements, how to obtain the needed fencing materials, and to build the expanded space.

• How business will operate and with staffing to place the installations. Outdoor seating is weather dependent, Cundiff noted.

• The impact on neighboring businesses, particularly with the loss of parking.

He put forth several of the following questions for consideration when moving forward:

• Will there be flexibility in the permit expansion process from Liquor Control?

• How much additional outdoor space is needed to be meaningful to the business owner?

• Would weekend use (Friday to Sunday) work better than seven days a week? Cundiff assumes it would work better to exist only on the weekends because of how much work it would be to put out and take up the tables and chairs.

• Will neighboring businesses be upset by the loss of on-street parking?

Cundiff told council the city has authority through City Council by authorizing the consumption of alcohol on public property, administrative approval of right of way permits and with zoning in the city, along with the inspection of installations by building inspections.

As a team approach with Sidney Alive and the city, he said Sidney Alive would be the outreach to businesses and provide the one-on-one support to help them through the process, as well as solicit and organize volunteer support. Meanwhile, city staff would provide up-front guidance on accepted designs, expedite applications by issuing temporary permits, and provide a site plan and mapping guidance to potential applicants.

In terms of the financial implications, Cundiff said, Sidney Alive could find potential fiscal or in-kind support to help offset material/build costs for businesses. The city of Sidney will provide staff time to review and approve applications, and monitor and track installations.

He questioned what other community partners should be included in the planning and program delivery to help make the outdoor spaces a success.

Other safety concerns and questions were posed on the daily maintenance and how to maintain social distancing in the outdoor seating spaces:

• Who provides sanitation stations and trash cans for each space?

• Who manages sanitation activities such as wiping down surfaces and emptying garbage?

• Will business owners be willing to police customer behavior within these spaces to maintain social distancing?

To make outdoor seating downtown happen, Cundiff explained the following process and then broke down each of them: Publish pilot program guidelines; provide support to applicants; issue temporary permits; install pilot pedlets; issue final permits; and monitor and analyze the program.

Pilot program guidelines include:

• Requirements for installing pedlets in the right of way, issued by public works department;

• Design guidelines and ideas provided by National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and Tactical Urbanism guide;

• Clearly identified program points of contact for each element of the program, such as what is the application going to look like, and the review and approval, installation and maintenance.

Applicant support includes:

• Material bank for railings, signage, barriers (planters, cones, fencing, etc.);

• Technical assistance with site plans and maps;

• Business assistance with operations and maintenance.

Permitting process includes:

• Expedited permit process that will allow approved temporary permits for installations which last less than two months;

• Permits issued for longer than 60 days would still require full review and permit.

Installation includes:

• Create a volunteer bank to assist businesses with materials and installation. Maybe create an adopt-a-pedlet program, something similar to how adopt-a-park works.

• Provide clear guidance regarding allowable materials and the expectations regarding the design and look of the pedlets. The city is looking for a uniform look.

How to monitor and analyze:

• Create simple online surveys for users to complete by scanning QR code posted at each location;

• Schedule regular touch-points with business owners to hear how the pilot program is working and address any concerns;

• After the season ends, send a follow-up survey to determine what worked, what could be adjusted, and if the program might continue.

Council expressed excitement and advised city staff to move forward with the next steps to creating the outdoor seating project.

By Sheryl Roadcap

sroadcap@sidneydailynews.com

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.