The committee meeting began with a draft ordinance entitled "Ordinance Regulating the Placement of Tables, Chairs, and Outdoor Furnishings for the Purpose of Outdoor Dining on the Public Sidewalks and Repealing Ordinance 0-02-2007".
Among the restrictions included in the original draft presented by Don Martin, the City Manager, were:
- The cost to lease a spot for a table is $10 / year
- To get a permit business owners must submit a site plan showing the location of the tables
- No outdoor dining permitted between Nov 16th to March 14th
- Umbrellas used with the tables can not contain any logos or advertisements
- Doors can not be propped open
- Possibly the most egregious of the restrictions was the proposal to prevent smoking on the sidewalk
- No cooking is permitted outdoors
- No heaters can be provided
I honestly have to say I was stunned when I read the first draft. It is probably the most outrageous attempt to restrict business activity I have ever seen and no real clear reason was presented for the ordinance. Not a single noise complaint has been filed against Midway businesses for the outdoor seating since it opened on July 4th. Don Martin indicated multiple times that this wasn't about noise - yet when confronted about the attempt to prevent owners from keeping their doors propped open Don indicated it would prevent the noise from becoming an issue. Frankly Don's entire logic was very contradictory.
An officer (whom I assumed was Chief Daly) was asked to provide some input and he indicated that he had not cited anyone for a noise ordinance in the 13 years he has worked for the city. Despite that ringing endorsement the witch hunt continued.
At one point there was an argument about whether or not a grace period should be extended for 15 minutes beyond the 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock cutoff and despite nearly unanimous support for a grace period Mary Brown cutoff debate and determined that a grace period would not be provided. I was surprised how everyone rolled over on that point.
Speaking of Mayor Mary Brown - I have to say it appeared she had an axe to grind against the Pub and Don happened to be her hatchet man. I wasn't the only one who noticed the attitude and afterward I spoke with another audience member who mentioned the same thing and indicated that was evident at the last meeting as well.
Despite comments that indicated a respect for personal property rights I am amazed how out of bounds the original draft ordinance was including restricting smoking on the 'leased' public property and limiting owner's ability to keep their doors open. At one point the Pub's owner asked Don Martin how he could enforce these ordinances? For instance would the business owner be cited if someone used one of his chairs after hours to sit and wait on a cab and whether this person could smoke a cigarette or have a drink of a soda? Would the person have to walk next door to one of the public benches paid for by the city and wait there instead? The city manager scoffed at the illustration but that is the bizarro restrictions that Midway Pub owners now find themselves in.
Council ultimately voted on and approved a revised ordinance that will be reviewed in November. Despite my shock at the content of the draft and what had transpired during the meeting I am mostly disappointed that our city spent $2 million to start the Midway district on a visionary path only to divert it into a ditch with restrictions and bad feelings between the city and business owners. Why would anyone in their right mind open a new restaurant here with that attitude?