Alcohol can be served on sidewalks

Lazaro Aleman, ECB Publishing, Inc.

The City of Monticello now has an ordinance permitting the serving of alcoholic beverages on the sidewalk.
The Monticello City Council unanimously approved Ordinance 2018-06 on Tuesday evening, April 3. It means that owners of restaurants and other food-serving establishments in the downtown district can now serve alcoholic beverages to their customers outdoors. Provided that is, that certain conditions are met.
These conditions are that the alcoholic beverages be served in conjunction with food, and that the business be in compliance with the requirements of the earlier passed ordinance allowing the placement of seating on the sidewalk.
Ordinance 2018-06 amends Section 10-6 of the city's Code of Ordinances by adding language that overrides the prohibition against the consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages just outside and within 500 feet of the premises of establishments licensed to sell such products. The new language states that licensed restaurant operators within the downtown B-1 business zoning district who are also licensed to sell alcoholic beverages and key, “who hold valid temporary use permits to operate sideway cafes on city sidewalks adjacent to their businesses, may serve alcoholic beverages to patrons seated at such sidewalk cafes.”
Don McPhate, owner of the Lazy Lizard Restaurant on Dogwood Street, had the only question prior to the council's approval of the ordinance. McPhate wanted to know if the new ordinance would adversely affect his business?
“I gave birth to that place and it's about whupped me,” McPhate declared.
Councilman Troy Avera and City Attorney Bruce Leinback said it would help his business. They explained that the reason for the ordinance was the city's desire to help downtown businesses and at the same time spur economic development by providing businesses with another tool to attract customers. The two emphasized, however, that in order to take advantage of the ordinance, businesses must abide by the requirements of the earlier passed sidewalk ordinance.
“You need to have the sidewalk permit in place,” Avera said. “Once you have that permit, you can get your license amended to serve alcohol beverages with food.”
Lienback underscored the point.
“This new law doesn't apply until you get the sidewalk permit,” he said.
Councilman Steve Rissman wanted to know how many of the downtown businesses with outdoor seating had acquired the sidewalk permit.
The response from City Clerk Emily Anderson was that City Manager Steve Wingate's effort to
“logjam had been broken,” but that at least one individual was still resisting.
That's when Leinback reiterated that it didn't matter, for so long as a business didn't comply with the sidewalk ordinance, it couldn't take advantage of the new ordinance.
City officials have been frustrated by the fact that certain downtown businesses have been reaping the benefits of the sidewalk ordinance without complying with its requirements, which include acquisition of a sidewalk permit and carrying at least $300,000 in liability insurance.
As Councilwoman Julie Conley expressed the frustration at a meeting in February when the new ordinance was proposed, she liked the concept.
“But I don't like the idea of passing another ordinance that we're not going to enforce,” she said. “We've got to have the political will to say, if we're going to do it, we've got to enforce the rules.”
Leinback agreed, offering that the businesses' lack of compliance was putting them as well as the city at risk of liability.
The issue, Leinback said, was that if an injury occurred as a result of the furniture or other obstacle on the sideway, the merchant, as well as the city, would be liable if the required liability insurance wasn't in place.
And not one business was complying with the requirements at that point,” Wingate said.
Previous to the city's adoption of the sidewalk ordinance, state law prohibited anyone from placing any items on the sidewalks.
City officials are also concerned that in some places the present sidewalk seating obstructs the passage of wheelchair-bound individuals, which is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sooner or later, they say, someone is going to file a complaint. But the bottom line, they say, is that the businesses are simply ignoring the ordinance's requirements.
“I don't understand what is so onerous about getting the sidewalk permit,” Conley said at the February meeting, adding that she had personally visited with some of the merchants and offered to help them with the paperwork to no avail.
The council passed the sidewalk ordinance in October 2016. And ever since it went into effect in Jan. 1, 2017, city officials have been trying to get the affected businesses to comply. Ordinance 2018-06 is the latest carrot that they are trying to encourage the businesses to comply, before resorting to the stick.