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Downtown Restaurants Seek Simpler Rules For Outdoor Dining

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Many restaurants in downtown Raleigh are eager to provide outdoor dining, but some owners are hungry for a simpler process.

Greg Hatem, the owner of the Raleigh Times, said it took 39 days to get approval for outdoor dining in front of his restaurant downtown. Once he got the OK, he said the guidelines of how many tables he could have on the sidewalk changed three times.

"Sure, we are frustrated," said Hatem. "It took us a lot of man-hours to make this happen, and there are more important things we should be working on."

The Sosta Café got in trouble for having flower boxes made of treated lumber. Under the current rules, city inspectors would rather have barriers to define a dining area. Downtown supporters said it's time the city loosened up.

"It's a concern, because what we are trying to facilitate in downtown is a real active, street-level experience," said Kris Larson with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

For three years, the city has been working on new standards for how private businesses can use public space. The opening of Fayetteville Street has put the new ordinance on the fast track.

The city is planning a one-stop permitting office to get, in days instead of weeks, permission for outdoor dining. The policy will lessen the walking space needed for pedestrians to allow more tables outside.

The rules won't require barriers anymore. However, treated lumber still won't be allowed.

"We are working as hard as we can to make it easy and quick to get these permits," said Dan Douglas with the Raleigh Urban Design Center. "This is the type of use are we encouraging."

The new rules will also address vending operations. For example, it's likely hot dog vendors will be assigned spots close to where they are now operating. The rules will designate areas for newspaper boxes and street performers, and will even outline the guidelines for minor encroachments such as A-frame signs and awnings.

The Raleigh Urban Design Center has asked city inspectors to ease up on enforcement while the new rules are being worked out. The document is now being looked over by the city attorney and will still go through a public hearing process. The city hopes to finalize the rules within a few months.


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