2014-04-25 / Front Page

More sidewalk seating likely

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland is poised to extend a pilot agreement made last year with CIA Café to allow restaurant seating on the sidewalk outside the 72 Ocean St. shop to other public walkways throughout the city.

At a workshop meeting Monday, April 15, the city council reviewed an ordinance change that would allow it to grant licenses for city sidewalks to be used for outdoor seating between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 15.

Because the ordinance requires a 36-inch-wide path be kept clear to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), seating will only be allowed where sidewalks are 8-feet wide. Public sidewalks of that width are only found in South Portland at Willard Square and on Ocean Street in Knightville. However, once reconstruction of Main Street through Thornton Heights is complete in two years’ time, businesses there also will qualify for the new license.

If passed as written, license agreements would ban tents, heating lamps or sidewalk signs (commonly known as sandwich boards), as well as what City Manager Jim Gailey termed “any attachments to the sidewalk.”

“I support doing this. This is a great idea,” said Councilor Linda Cohen, expressing board support for the measure.

Still, the council did spend nearly an hour on the topic Monday, largely on a debate over the appropriate license fee. It ultimately reached consensus on $40, which will include postage costs to notify residents within 100 feet of any proposed outdoor seating of impending council action on the request.

According to City Attorney Sally Daggett, “for comparison,” a license to operate a restaurant in South Portland is $250. In Portland, a restaurant license is $420, plus a $35 application fee. The annual fee in Portland to then set up sidewalk seating is $80, plus $2 per square foot of “dining area.”

However, South Portland councilors felt such fees on their side of the Fore River should be limited to covering administrative costs.

“We don’t want this to become a revenue source,” said Councilor Tom Blake.

Beyond that, the council did get stymied somewhat on how to regulate umbrellas placed over any outdoor seating. The agreement reached last year with CIA Café restricted umbrellas to a diameter of no more than 48 inches in order to meet ADA rules. However, CIA owner Bill Dunnigan said the restriction kept his business from putting up umbrellas at all last year to shade outdoor diners from the sun.

“It was successful and we got a lot of business,” he said, “but the reason you never saw umbrellas out there is you can’t get 48-inch umbrellas. They just don’t make them. We tried all summer, we couldn’t find them.”

The council tentatively agreed to allow wide umbrellas, if they are at placed on a pole that is at least 7 feet tall, to allow the public to pass by unhindered.

Margaret Stenberg, who lives in a condominium unit directly above CIA, complained mightily about the outdoor seating agreement last year, particularly learning about it just hours before a May 15 workshop on the pilot request.

However, Stenberg said Monday that having café patrons right below her windows turned out to be less onerous than she had at first supposed.

“My concern last year was noise. People noise has not been a problem,” she said. “Boundaries also have not been a concern, when there are two people at a table. However, when a third person joins, or when a group of people come to talk, then they are in that 36-inch space allowed for the handicapped. So, that is a concern.”

Stenberg said smoking has been a issue. Tabletop signs advise CIA diners they cannot smoke at the outdoor tables. However, Stenberg said, some patrons simply walk around the corner, onto D Street, where they’ll catch a quick puff below her window.

Councilor Patti Smith said state law bans smoking within 25 feet of any restaurant window, not just its doorway. She advised the Dunnigans to obtain free window clings from any of Maine’s many smoking cessation groups to advise diners that they need to walk another 25 feet past the last café window on D Street to comply with the law.

The proposed ordinance directs the city clerk’s office, rather than code enforcement, to deal with complaints, while police are authorized to handle enforcement.

The city council was scheduled to conduct a first reading of the ordinance at a meeting that took place after the deadline for this week’s Sentry.

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