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Cafes, Oh-Lay!


Surprise, surprise. Even in government, common sense sometimes triumphs.

Such a joyful occasion was the Annapolis City Council's decision last Monday to withdraw a sidewalk cafe bill sponsored by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. That legislation would have made it virtually impossible to operate sidewalk cafes by requiring separate liquor licenses and conditional use permits for the outdoor sections. It even would have forbidden cafes from using paper and plastic table settings.

Instead of this shortsighted exercise in micromanagement, Annapolis' council will now consider a simpler set of regulations proposed by Alderman Ellen O. Moyer and favored by restaurants.

Annapolis is a nice waterfront town that would be just perfect for sidewalk cafes with checkered tablecloths, flowers and umbrellas. For some reason, this thought has triggered near-panic among some historic district residents. They fear that so many sidewalk cafes might flower, the downtown would devolve into some cheap carnival town.

Residents of the historic district are so often on tenterhooks over this or that real or perceived problem that they seem direct descendants of the first Europeans who alighted in what became Maryland's state capital. "The Puritans who settled at Annapolis," one local history recounted, "were a restless set with itching ears, who seemed never so satisfied as when they were in open opposition to the powers that were."

Ms. Moyer's proposed regulations appear to provide more than adequate safeguards against things getting out of hand. Cafes would require approval from the Department of Planning and Zoning and the city could cancel a sidewalk cafe's lease if it finds the owner violated fire, police or alcoholic beverage control regulations. If the regulations pass, enforcement should be consistent and persistent.

As long as outdoor cafes truly are cafes and not noisy beer gardens, they are likely to be a welcome addition to Annapolis in summer. They will encourage visitors and residents to stroll at a less hurried pace. That should increase patronage at other downtown businesses, too. Let the summer cafes bloom. Let there be colorful umbrellas. If problems crop up, they can be handled. There is no reason to be paranoid about people wanting to enjoy a cup of coffee or a cool drink outdoors.

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