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Local businesses pleased with new sidewalk ordinance

BY NATE OTJEN | SEPTEMBER 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass an ordinance implementing changes to the sidewalk-café policy in downtown Iowa City, and most local business owners say they’re pleased.

The City Council approved two items pertaining to sidewalk cafés. The first took sidewalk cafés out of the City Code and put them in an administrative code. The second had two parts — adding an administrative policy on how to handle the current sidewalk cafés and flexibility to expand sidewalk cafés in planters outside the Pedestrian Mall.

“It’s just another way of expanding upon the synergy of downtown Iowa City,” said Jim Mondanaro, the owner of Micky’s Irish Pub & Grill, 11 S. Dubuque St.

He proposed the ordinance for sidewalk cafés. Micky’s focused its efforts on expanding cafés into parking areas. Because the parking section of the ordinance was not discussed or passed Tuesday, Micky’s won’t be able to move forward with finding staff for its plans with outdoor dining yet.

The City Council informally voted 4-3 to remove the section regarding street cafés in parking spaces for the formal meeting and to add a lottery to planter cafés if necessary. The item will be discussed at the council’s next meeting, Sept. 18.

City officials were supported the ordinance.

“I absolutely support the idea of making the downtown an even more vibrant place for people to live and work,” City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said.

He said nearly 30 business owners could be affected by the changes.

Though one city official says the timing of this ordinance being passed could affect how soon businesses take advantage of the new law.

“Given the short period left in this season, I’d be surprised if we see a lot of applications,” Assistant to City Manager Geoff Fruin said.

The owner of the Brown Bottle, 115 E. Washington St., supports the ordinance but has some reservations.

“[My husband and I] definitely enjoy having sidewalk cafés in the downtown area,” said Gina Landau, who owns the Brown Bottle with her husband. “It enhances the downtown to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.”

Landau wasn’t, however, in favor of the ordinance using parking spaces to create sidewalk cafés. This will be discussed at the next meeting.

“We’re not excited about the ordinance taking up parking spaces for outdoor cafés,” she said.

City Councilor Connie Champion said the ordinance will be a welcome change in Iowa City.

“I support it because it’s an adventure,” she said. “It’s good to try something new; I’m not afraid of change. I think anytime you can bring in anything exciting, it’s good for the downtown.”

She thinks almost every business was in favor of the ordinance downtown, but she is also frustrated with the hesitancy of the council on this issue.

“Getting people to agree to something, as I’ve said before, is almost impossible," Champion said.

Eight community members spoke on the ordinance last night to the City Council, with the majority speaking in favor of it.

“It’s like anything,” Mondanaro said. “… Until you see it and see it in action … it’s hard to wrap your head around it. It’s time to see this work.”


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