One of the many topics of discussion at last week’s monthly meeting of the Central CAC was a proposed change to the city’s private use of public space ordinances.Will Marks, a resident of Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, was on hand last Monday to present his thoughts on the city’s private use of public space ordinances; specifically, the sidewalk-dining text change that came before City Council in June.
Marks argued that the initial intent of the sidewalk-dining ordinance, last updated in 1999, was to allow restaurants to provide an outdoor dining area for their patrons.In recent years, Marks said, several private clubs — under North Carolina law, any establishment that serves alcohol but does not generate at least 30 percent of its revenue from food is defined as a private club — have been taking advantage of the ordinance’s ambiguity and the city’s reluctance to enforce what Marks described as its original intent.
This, he said, has led to problems with noise, litter and pedestrian access to sidewalks.
As originally proposed, the text change would have specifically prohibited private clubs from using sidewalk space for patrons wishing to sit outdoors. A public backlash against the limitation led Council last month to send the proposed change to the Law & Public Safety Committee for further analysis.
Two alternatives presented at last month’s L&PS meeting would both allow businesses such as Paddy O’Beers and the Raleigh Wine Shop to continue to offer seating on a portion of the sidewalks in front of their businesses. The original text change, which would have restricted private clubs, was thrown out.
Marks criticized the backlash that brought about these alternatives, arguing that business owners, who have said a prohibition on outdoor seating could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, had no ground to stand on.
“A lot of people feel like they’re having their rights being taken away; nobody is taking their rights away. It’s called private use of public space,” Marks said.
“That’s a privilege that the city confers on businesses — it’s not a right that can be taken away — and with privileges come responsibilities.”Marks ended his speech with a warning that the current private use of public space ordinances were merely the “tip of the spear.”
“The whole city’s going to become an entertainment district,” he said.
“Monoculture is weak and boring, diversity is powerful and interesting. We need an interesting city, not a boring city.”
Marks’ comments were received enthusiastically by the large crowd, which had packed the meeting room at the Top Greene Community Center.
Although Marks had invited Councilors Stephenson and Weeks, both in attendance that night, to chime in on his presentation, neither had anything to add.
When approached afterward, Stephenson said he saw the sidewalk dining issue largely as one of enforcement, echoing sentiments expressed by Councilor Mary Ann Baldwin during last month’s Law & Public Safety meeting.