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Sidewalk cafes may be authorized in Atlanta; proposal pending before city council

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By David Pendered

Sidewalk cafes have become commonplace in urban areas around the country and Atlanta is making plans to allow them. The plan has support from the head of the city’s leading pedestrian group, who views outdoor seating as enlivening streetscapes.

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Outdoor dining tables are frequently filled along the restaurant row that lines Broad Street, in Downtown Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Although sidewalk cafes would reduce pedestrian access to sidewalks, the trade-off is worth it – unlike the trade-off for scooters, which endanger folks who use sidewalks when the scooters are operated by irresponsible riders, Sally Flocks, president and CEO of PEDS, said Thursday.

“Having outdoor cafes is a positive, in terms of having a community feeling and a friendly environment, and having people to smile at when you walk by,” Flocks said.

“Scooters are different,” Flocks said. “There’s the problem of safety – you’re either bullied by someone coming at you, or you’re scared by someone coming up from behind. When they’re parked, they create an obstacle course that you can’t get around, and they’re ugly – you can’t enjoy the beauty of the buildings you’re walking by.”

One caveat Flocks did observe is that the sidewalks outside the boundaries of the outdoor café still serve their purpose.

That means the sidewalks must be at least 3 feet wide, which is the minimum requirement to allow a wheelchair to use the sidewalk. The sidewalk also must meet other standards mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.

“The sidewalk space has to be ADA compliant,” Flocks said. “They shouldn’t have an uplifted area, meaning they can’t have slopes. And they can’t have cracks. The clear area has to be measured from where a chair is extended when someone’s sitting there, and take into account when maybe an extra person brings up a chair to sit at the table.”

The pending legislation provides that sidewalks remain at least 5 feet wide, unless zoning codes establish other requirements; no dining furniture may be within 6 feet of a crosswalk, ramp, fire hydrant or connection; no furniture may be within 15 feet of transit stops or shelters; the exit pathway from a business must be at least 5 feet wide, in a straight line from the door.

The Atlanta City Council is considering legislation to authorize outdoor dining areas on public sidewalks. The paper was introduced by Councilmember Amir Farokhi.

The outdoor areas must comply with existing zoning requirements. The current plan is for the city’s Department of Public Works to renew permits for sidewalk cafes. The duties, if any, to be performed by the city’s newly created Department of Transportation in regards to outdoor cafes do not appear to be addressed in the legislation.

The proposal is under review and the next time it’s likely to be publicly discussed is July 9, at the next meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee.

The committee voted Tuesday to hold the legislation for further consideration of the fees to be charged to café operators who want to serve customers on the public sidewalk. Issues related to ADA compliance weren’t mentioned in the motion to hold the legislation.

The fee structure in the existing legislation includes an application fee, and a fee for a 12-month permit that’s to be based on a sliding rate based on the size of the outdoor seating area:

  • Application fee – $250;
  • Up to 250 square feet of the city’s sidewalk – $500;
  • From 251 to 500 square feet of the city’s sidewalk – $750;
  • From 501 square feet and larger – $1,000.

The legislation provides this description of the reason the city may authorize cafes to operate on city sidewalks:

  • “WHEREAS, eating and drinking establishments, that maintain outdoor dining areas add character to the streetscape environment, and encourage pedestrian activity; and
  • “WHEREAS, the City of Atlanta has the desire to encourage outdoor dining in portions of the sidewalk, in the public right-of-way provided there is sufficient pedestrian clearance; and
  • “WHEREAS, the City has a substantial interest in regulating how eating and drinking establishment operators operate in the public right-of-way; and
  • “WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Atlanta City Council that there be an established procedure through the Department of Public Works for granting permits to those eating and drinking establishments wishing to provide outdoor dining areas in the sidewalk in the public right-of-way in a manner that is effective, efficient and enforceable….”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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2 Comments

  1. Kaelin June 28, 2019 7:56 am

    I love sidewalk cafes and have always thought that Atlanta was missing this. Would love to see this plan pass.Report

    Reply
  2. Richard Tanksley July 8, 2019 10:04 am

    Scooters are ugly? Not nearly as ugly or disruptive as cars have and continue to be to our cities. It was the car that destroyed walkable cities. It’s the scooters that are bringing them back.Report

    Reply

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