Iowa City City Council approves street cafes

BY NATE OTJEN | OCTOBER 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Restaurants and bars in Iowa City now have the opportunity to take their business to the streets.

The Iowa City City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a resolution that will permit businesses to construct street cafés. The resolution also added to the ordinance rules about the size and configuration of such cafés.

Further, the councilors’ decision provides guidelines for how close sidewalk cafés — which the city already permits — can come to city planters.

City Councilor Jim Throgmorton told The Daily Iowan he favors street cafés in Iowa City.
“It’s a terrific idea — it will enhance the vitality of downtown,” he said. “I fully support the idea,” he said.

But he also expressed some concern about the issue of the sidewalk cafés’ proximity to planters.

“I’ll probably support [the new guidelines], but I want to hear what the other councilors have to say,” he said before the meeting.

In September, councilors passed a sidewalk café ordinance that sparked conversation about the regulation of outdoor seating.

At that meeting, the council voted unanimously to remove regulation of sidewalk cafés from the city code and make it an administrative code. It included an administrative policy on how to handle the current sidewalk cafés and it added flexibility to expand sidewalk cafés around planters.

Nearly 30 businesses in Iowa City could be affected by the sidewalk and street café ordinance.

Gina Landau, owner of the Brown Bottle, 115 E. Washington St., said she and her husband have some reservations about the ordinance but definitely support it.

 “[My husband and I] definitely enjoy having sidewalk cafés in the downtown area,” Landau told The Daily Iowan on Sept. 4. “It enhances the downtown to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.”

The discussion over street cafés includes several provisions that businesses have to follow. A business cannot operate a street café if it has enough space — 120 square feet or more — to build a café on the sidewalk in front of the establishment.

In addition, a business owner must build a street café such that a 4-foot buffer separates it from any surrounding object. Further, no street café can occupy more than 30 percent of that block’s total parking space. Finally, the resolution states street cafés can’t be located in loading zones and must be on a platform above the street.

Despite Tuesday’s 7-0 vote, City Councilor Rick Dobyns said he is concerned about the problems the street cafés could bring.

“I’m concerned that it might be too complex,” he said. “It’s more complex because you have to set the boundaries of restaurants with the boundaries of parking spaces.”

Dobyns said he is concerned this might affect the number of applications the city receives by February. The due date for applications for a street café is Feb. 1.

The City Council may consider loosening the requirements if officials don’t receive enough applications by the deadline, Dobyns said. The public works office will handle all applications for sidewalk and street cafés.

Kim Sandbery of the Iowa City Public Works office echoed Dobyns’ perception of the issue and said it’s unclear how much interest businesses will express.

“We could have a dozen applications or we could have no applications,” she said.

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