Council to try sidewalk seating for businesses

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Potential cafe ordinance would allow outdoor tables until midnight

Score one for small business.

The Austin City Council asked city attorneys Monday to draw up a new ordinance to allow medium-sized businesses with state-licensed kitchens to put out seats and temporary gating.

The new ordinance comes after Mark Nagle, owner of Dusty’s Bar & Lounge, approached council members last month about putting chairs outside the bar.

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“It’s done everywhere else,” he said during the council’s work session Monday.

The city currently allows businesses to put out chairs to serve patrons as long as 70 percent or more of their sales come from food rather than liquor. The council heard a proposal to change the ordinance from Council Member Michael Jordal last month, but the issue appeared dead after Police Chief Brian Krueger expressed reservations about enforcing an ordinance switch in the downtown area.

Krueger told council members Monday that it could be difficult to enforce a new ordinance in the downtown area, as outdoor seating would allow residents to bring alcohol outside. People could technically abuse the rule to walk between bars with open containers of alcohol.

“To me, we’re going to get every excuse in the book of why they’ve got a drink in their hand and walking down the sidewalk,” Krueger said. “From my perspective, where’s the line going to be drawn? And I think that’s going to be extremely difficult.”

While Nagle agreed with Krueger’s concerns, he also said the idea could allow businesses to create a more active atmosphere in downtown Austin.

“The idea is to create some pulse, some energy, so you can make your business look good downtown,” he said.

Vision 2020 Director of Vision Creation Laura Helle helped offer a solution after she pointed out other businesses like the B & J Bar & Grill offer similar outdoor seating. Though Krueger said the B & J was different because it’s a private business, Nagle offered to put up temporary gating to create a barrier between bar patrons and the rest of the city.

The council agreed and directed staff to draw up an ordinance to tie medium-sized businesses under state law to the outdoor seating measure rather than a food percentage. In addition, the proposed ordinance would allow outdoor seating until midnight.

If all goes well, the ordinance could be approved by mid-September. Nagle could then try outdoor seating and report any issues to the city if the ordinance is approved.