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City revisiting outdoor dining policy

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City Council is working on expanding outdoor dining options for downtown Greenville, Crave is one of those establishments.

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Increasing vibrancy and a sense of place downtown has long been a mission of the city, and officials are looking at amending outdoor dining policies to help. 

Christian Lockamy, Greenville’s acting director of economic development, gave a presentation about the changes to the City Council’s economic development committee last week. He said outdoor dining policies allowing for downtown restaurants to use public sidewalks were passed in 2013, but he believes several changes could make the policy more effective and accessible.

It would not be the first time the policy was modified.

The original 2013 policy caused discord among some downtown merchants and was amended shortly after it was put in place. Restrictions such as not allowing umbrellas and requiring all-metal furniture and a $150 annual fee were changed after several meetings between merchants and city staff.

Lockamy stressed that the latest round of recommendations are preliminary and that staff would bring researched and community-vetted recommendations to the council in August or September. He said one of the main staff wants to do is talk to business owners about what they would like to see in an updated policy. 

Only five restaurants downtown have acquired the permits for the sidewalk dining: Crave, Coastal Fog, Starlight, Fire American Tavern, and Blackbeard Coffee Roasters.The policy does not include areas restaurants like Winslow’s or Crossbones Tavern, which have outdoor dining located on their own property. 

Lockamy said city staff is interested in expanding the policies to include areas like the Dickenson Avenue corridor. One of the big changes he proposed is reducing the required space between tables or chairs and the curb. The city enforces a North Carolina Department of Transportation standard of five feet, but discovered on non-DOT roads the space could be reduced to four feet per city code. 

“We’ve found for other cities in North Carolina that have adopted a lower width,” he said. “As long as it’s still safe, wheelchairs can still get through there and there’s a clear path for pedestrians access, I think there’s some flexibility we have to offer this to people that want to pursue it.”

Lockamy noted that Greenville’s downtown sidewalks are narrower than some large cities that have walks 20 feet or wider, so some outside dining options are not possible.

He said he was also interested in pursuing a noise ordinance to allow for lightly amplified sound outside, to give diners a sense of atmosphere. And he wants to explore allowing businesses to leave their furniture outside after hours, provided it was properly secured. 

Most of the modification aim to make the policy more accessible to business owners. He said staff plans to create a simple ‘how to’ guide to outline requirements.

Matt Scully, owner of the Scullery, said making the process simpler was critical to getting more businesses to set up outdoor seating. He said he had started the permitting process but found it too intimidating and eventually gave up.

“We thought about getting some outdoor seating, but the process the city has right now I don’t think is really designed for business our size, or for people in out situation,” he said.

Scully said the city requires a searing plan, “which I can understand if we had a patio or a large operation but someone like us, we really only have space for two or three tables.”

He said he had additional hesitations about whether the business model would work well with his store location. Reducing the table-to-curb space to four feet could help, and making a simpler application process could convince him to reconsider it, Scully said. 

Bianca Shoneman, president of Uptown Greenville said she was excited the city was working on the process. She said that outdoor dining is a huge part of creating a inviting and warm atmosphere in the downtown area. 

“When you see people sitting outside, your space looks activated, your streets look alive, and it creates a hum and a buzz to a city that’s quite charming,” she said. 

Local business owners agree that making changes could be beneficial to the city.

Julie Dietrich, a coowner of Coast Fog, said having a variety of experiences for customers is a core concept in their own business model. She said the biggest benefit to outdoor seating is creating a sense of community for both customers and people just in the downtown area. 

“It’s fun to see people conversing with other community members, striking up conversations with people with people that are sitting around,” she said. “I love to see that; we’re all about creating discussion. Everything we do at Coastal Fog is about creating an experience ... and outdoor dining allows for people in the community to casually converse.”  

Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth 

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