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Charleston OKs sidewalk dining downtown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Restaurants could soon start serving lunch and dinner on city sidewalks following passage of an outdoor dining bill Monday by Charleston City Council.

And if some establishments want to serve beer with their meals, that's OK too. But supporters of the ordinance want to be clear: It's an outdoor dining bill, not an outdoor drinking one. Bars need not apply.

A handful of Charleston restaurants already have outdoor tables, but mainly on private property. This ordinance regulates dining on city property.

"This is outdoor dining on a city right of way. Outdoor cafés might be a better word," said city Planning Director Dan Vriendt.

It applies only to restaurants in the central business district -- an area roughly bounded by the Elk and Kanawha rivers, Leon Sullivan Way, and Smith and Washington streets -- and on streets with a speed limit of 25 miles an hour or less.

That leaves out Kanawha Boulevard, the East End, West Side and Kanawha City, although other areas could be added later.

"I think the feeling was start small, get it up and running and see how it goes," Vriendt said.

City Councilman Andy Richardson said the Planning Committee has been tweaking the bill for nearly a year.

"We looked at all those things, but the place that jumped out to us was Capitol Street," Richardson said. "There's an opportunity to create a village atmosphere like other places where dining outdoors is part of the culture."

At Adelphia Bar & Grill on Capitol Street, owner Deno Stanley is anxious to expand the limited outdoor seating he's offered for nearly a year.

"I'm excited," he said Monday. "We had outdoor dining, but we couldn't have any alcohol out there. I won't say it deterred business. Some people came inside, some left. I asked a couple council people about it. They said they were working on it.

"Having worked in other cities, we're one of few cities that don't allow it. We think it's a great idea. We'd like to expand outdoor dining.

"In fact, we'd like to explore the possibility of closing Capitol Street from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and possibly Saturday afternoon to stimulate foot traffic. If we close off the street, we can double the outdoor dining experience. We can look just like a European café. They've been doing it for thousands of years.

"All these other cities are doing stuff. We're about a decade behind," Stanley said.

Mayor Danny Jones had some reservations about the bill at council's Finance Committee meeting Monday. "Did we limit the space?"

As required by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, restaurants must leave a 3-foot-wide path for pedestrians along the curb, Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis said.

"In some places, there's only room for one row of tables," Davis said.

Some parts of Capitol Street have narrow sidewalks, Jones said. "Here's what I'm worried about: When this hits the paper, someone gets all excited [about outdoor dining] and then their sidewalk's too narrow."

Davis said restaurants would have to obtain permits through the Planning Department and, for beverages, the ABCA. City permits cost $50 for the first year and $25 for additional years.

Seating areas don't have to be covered, Davis said, "but there has to be a barrier if they're serving beer."

Draft rules for the program say barriers around seating areas must be between 32 and 42 inches high, Vriendt said. "That ensures you have good visibility into the outdoor dining area. That creates a festive atmosphere. It's all about creating street-level activity."

Finance Committee members and City Council members approved the measure on unanimous voice votes. Vriendt said his office is ready to start taking applications for permits.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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