Revisions aim to boost sidewalk dining areas
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Officials are considering several changes to the city’s sidewalk dining policy to encourage more restaurants to offer outdoor dining, and Uptown Greenville will offer a grant to business looking to expand their offerings.
About 20 people gathered at Sheppard Memorial Library on Monday for a public input session on outdoor dining expansion. The meeting, attended mostly by downtown business owners and stakeholders — also gave city officials a chance to update the public about ideas to revise the outdoor dining policy and accommodate expansion.
Christian Lockamy, Greenville’s acting director of economic development, led the meeting and said his office expects to take a suggested update to the policy to City Council during its September meeting.
According to Lockamy, suggested revisions include combining two existing policies into a single coherent and easily accessible set of rules for all business owners to follow. He said making the process easier is the most important part of the revision, but his department would make a concentrated effort to assist each business with any part of the process,
“We’ll work with you, we’ll help you, we want you to be successful,” he said. “You’re not going to be left on your own to navigate this, we’re going to help you.”
Options for the council to consider in September will include allowing businesses that wish to offer outdoor seating to expand in front of adjacent businesses, with their permission. Lockamy also said they are researching how much the city could reduce the minimum clearance requirements between dining space and the street.
The clearance currently is five feet. He said staff believes reducing the requirement to four feet is feasible, and perhaps even three feet, which is the minimum to remain ADA compliant.
The council also will have to decide on whether businesses will be allowed to leave furniture outside after the close of business. He said many cities staff has researched do not require business to stow furniture overnight. Lockamy said the city would not regulate the type of furniture allowed, except that it not be plastic.
Finally, Lockamy said staff also is looking into markings to cordon off dining areas. He said the markings are important for keeping order, but they also create a sense of place to encourage potential customers to stop and take a look.
Lockamy said the exact design of these markings could vary in shape and color, but showed markings used in Raliegh as an example. There, the city installs silver medallions embedded with a city seal on the pavement to designate dining space.
Currently, five restaurants downtown have acquired permits for the sidewalk dining: Crave, Coastal Fog, Starlight, Fire American Tavern and Blackbeard Coffee Roasters.
The policy does not apply to restaurants like Winslow’s or Crossbones Tavern, which have outdoor dining located on their property and don’t require public sidewalk space.
City officials hope revisions will encourage businesses that already utilize public space to expand their outdoor dining and prompt others to take advantage of it.
Suggested permitting for businesses downtown would be set at $150 initially, followed by an annual fee of $25. Businesses would be required to submit copies of a simple sketch of the area they wish to use and where furniture would be placed.
Also during the meeting, Bianca Shoneman, president of the nonprofit Uptown Greenville development group, announced the start of an outdoor dining grant program.
She said $3,000 has been allocated for the 2018-19 fiscal year, with a maximum of $500 per business. She said revised regulations will be positive for the area.
“I think this is very important work that you guys are doing, the policy does need to be adjusted,” she said. “I think the premise and spirit of what you’re trying to do — make it more accessible and promote it better is exactly the direction we should going in Uptown Greenville.”
Contact Seth Thomas Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9579.