Annapolis council OKs outdoor cafes downtown


The sidewalks in Annapolis aren't just for strolling anymore. They're for dining, too.

The City Council voted early yesterday to allow sidewalk cafes in the downtown historic district on a trial basis this fall. The 6-2 vote came about 1:30 a.m., after a marathon session that had started Monday night.

The council voted for the experiment despite the protests of downtown residents who accused council members of serving up the town's history to the business district.

"This is a gift to the bars," W. Minor Carter complained yesterday. "There are no safeguards in this bill for the historic district. This council is just an out-of-control group of people."

Mr. Carter, who lives on Southgate Avenue just outside the historic district, and other downtown residents said the resolution was too free-wheeling, allowing virtually anyone to make a fast dollar on the streets while turning the historic district over to hot dog stands and mega-bars.

Cafe supporters accused residents of overreacting, noting that the sidewalk cafes are being allowed merely on a trial basis, from Sept. 29 to Dec. 15.

The council will take up debate on permanent sidewalk cafe legislation in October, when a public hearing will be scheduled.

Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat and staunch cafe supporter, said the concept is hardly radical.

"It's hard for me to understand what they see as the great devil in outdoor cafes," Ms. Moyer said. "You get into that groove of opposition and you don't know how to get out. It becomes habitual."

Historic district restaurant owners must fill out a license application and pay the city a $300 fee to open a sidewalk cafe. The city's alcoholic beverage control board must approve outdoor liquor permits. The cafes must allow 6 feet of sidewalk space for pedestrians and close by 10:30 p.m. under the resolution. Street furniture must be removed by 11 p.m.

The resolution does not specify the placement of the cafes, allowing restaurant owners to lease sections of sidewalk anywhere in the historic district, aldermen said.

Aldermen Louise Hammond, D-Ward 1, and Wayne Turner, R-Ward 6, voted against the measure. Ms. Hammond said she supports the concept of sidewalk cafes but accused the council of flouting the city code by voting on the issue without a public hearing.

Ms. Hammond called the bill "anything-goes legislation" and warned that the council will have a difficult time imposing strict operating guidelines for sidewalk cafes after allowing them to open with so few restrictions.

"Why the heck are we even bothering with the long-term ordinance," she asked. "There's nothing temporary about these cafes."

Restaurant owners are eager to place tables outside their restaurants as soon as possible. Their advice to angered downtown residents was to think of Paris.

"The great cities of Europe all have sidewalk cafes," said Roy Dunshee, the owner of Acme Bar & Grill on Main Street.

Next month, debate begins on the long-term sidewalk cafe proposals. A measure sponsored by Ms. Moyer would allow restaurant owners to open the cafes without seeking additional liquor licenses or conditional use permits. The bill does not specify when the cafes should close or how they should look.

Ms. Hammond introduced a rival bill that would require the City Council to approve each cafe individually and would impose stricter regulations on liquor licensing. Ms. Hammond believes the city should control a cafe's appearance, down to a ban on plastic table settings, as well as its size.

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