City council OKs sidewalk dining


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 started Monday night.

The council voted for the experiment despite 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."

Mr. Carter, who lives on Southgate Avenue just outside the historic district, and other downtown residents said the resolution allowed 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 over-reacting, noting that sidewalk cafes would be allowed merely on a trial basis, from Sept. 29 to Dec. 15.

Legislation that would allow sidewalk cafes permanently is to be considered by the council in October, when a public hearing will be scheduled.

Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat and cafe supporter, said the concept was 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 also must permit 6 feet of sidewalk space for pedestrians and close by 10:30 p.m. under terms of 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, Ward 1 Democrat, and Wayne Turner, Ward 6 Republican, voted against the measure. Ms. Hammond said she supported 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 would 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 said. "There's nothing temporary about these cafes."

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

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

Jerry Hardesty, who owns the only existing downtown sidewalk cafe. at The Middleton Tavern, is eager to add another at O'Brien's Bar & Oyster Restaurant on Main Street. Harvey Blonder, who owns Buddy's Crabs & Ribs at the foot of Main Street, said he also hopes to put tables on the sidewalk near his restaurant's entrance.

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 and would impose stricter regulations on liquor licensing. Ms. Hammond believes that the city should control a cafe's appearance, down to a ban on plastic plastic table settings, as well as its size.

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