Restaurant owner bristles at plan to ban dining on Raleigh plazas
Posted May 24, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — As Raleigh officials continue mulling over rules for sidewalk seating outside downtown restaurants and bars, a City Council committee voted Tuesday to ban private dining on plazas downtown.
With the recent reopening of Market and Exchange Plazas, city leaders decided to rethink private dining in these spaces. The Economic Development and Innovation Committee recommended that the full council prohibit restaurants from using space on the plazas, including City Plaza, for outdoor seating.
"We just want some areas of the city to be quieter in nature," Councilwoman Kay Crowder said. "That doesn't mean they won't be used to have fun. They just won't have food and beverage service."
Z Pizza and Tap Room owner Stephen Drotts said he feels singled out by the proposal.
"We are the only full-serve restaurant that will lose our outdoor seating," Drotts said.
Only two restaurants sit on a downtown plaza: Z Pizza on City Plaza and and Bolt on Exchange Plaza. But Bolt is in a city-owned building, and its 10-year lease allows for outdoor dining on the city space.
Drotts said he had private outdoor dining for years, but construction at the Bank of America building where Z Pizza is located forced him to move everything inside. Once construction was over last year, he applied for a new permit.
"The city made us go through all kinds of hoops and delayed this for eight months and led us to believe we'd get our permit back," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to get our outdoor seating back."
City Councilman Bonner Gaylord was the lone no vote on banning private dining from plazas, saying he welcomes additional outdoor seating.
The city already has some tables and chairs on City Plaza – some is used by people who buy food from kiosks there – and is looking at spending another $25,000 on outdoor furniture for downtown plazas.
"It’s always challenging when we’re looking at public spaces and private use of that public space. I think we need to be as fair as possible," Gaylord said. "I think we could've handled this a little differently that would've created a more vibrant downtown and more fair."
Drotts said he worries the loss of outdoor dining could eventually force him out of business.
"I think it's a very backwards thinking move when they've been investing all this money to bring alive downtown again," he said.
As for sidewalk seating, the committee agreed with recommendations from a city task force that has studied the issue for months. The City Council is expected to vote next month on the recommendations, which include a ban on stackable chairs and tables and limiting the use of stanchions to rope off dining areas to special occasions.