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Raleigh city leaders, business owners compromise on new rules

Posted November 3, 2015
Updated December 8, 2015

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— Growth in Raleigh is leading to new rules that some downtown business owners say are driving customers away.

Raleigh City Council members took a closer look Tuesday at two controversial issues - new parking fees and sidewalk seating.

Raleigh's new rules on sidewalk seating will begin to ease up, allowing restaurants and bars with permits to serve on city sidewalks until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Bar owner Zack Medford called it a victory for small business owners. For months, many downtown business owners had been at odds with city council. He said they felt targeted by the restrictive seating rules and proposed parking deck fees.

"It is a difficult transition," said Mayor Nancy McFarlane. "People are not used to paying for parking on evenings and weekends."

In June, the council voted to charge for parking in city-owned parking decks every night. The fees would be used to pay for repairs and maintenance of the decks. Business owners fought back and worried it would drive customers elsewhere.

"I'm really excited to see that city council is taking into consideration the needs of small business owners," Medford said.

The compromise, a $5 fee for parking after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturday, is designed to raise money for maintenance without limiting downtown visitors.

The two sides also came closer together on the issue of sidewalk seating. In August, after complaints of late night noise and crowded streets, the city enacted an ordinance that regulated the number of people who could sit outside and curbed the hours.

"We got a lot of feedback...people do not like to feel like they are sitting in a little pen," said bar owner Vincent Whitehurst.

Some bar owners said their revenue has declined by as much as 30 percent since the new ordinance took effect.

On Tuesday, City Council voted to extend hours for sidewalk seating until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

"I think brining everyone to the table and having the discussion was good for downtown Raleigh," Medford said.

According to police, the sidewalk seating ordinance helped reduce quality of life issues - such as public urination and noise complaints by about 32 percent.

The ordinance, which was piloted in a three month program, will be simplified and modified as the city will continue to work with business owners to make improvements. City Council will vote on the changes Nov. 17.

The parking deck fees will take effect on Dec. 31.

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