The purpose of this blog series is to begin a conversation about the shifts we hope to see in the soon to be seated newly elected leaders of Bellevue, PA, a shift away from reactive leadership to that with a more proactive approach to governing. Though our community must still decide the outcome of some important elections in November’s General Election, the already overwhelming results of the Primary Election in May tells us this conversation should be sooner rather than later. How can Bellevue’s newly elected leadership take a more proactive approach to governing? We hope to entertain a conversation about this very subject in the days and weeks to come.
Sidewalk Seating/BYOB in the Business District – 2012
In Spring of 2012, I applied for a sidewalk seating license at the borough building. I intended to put 3 tables outside of the business that I owned at the time. Upon paying for my license (yes, you read the correctly, the borough CHARGES businesses to use their own sidewalk), and reviewing the two pages of terms and conditions of having a table outside, I realized that the ordinances linked to cafe tables were counter-productive to business. There were sections of the ordinance that stated that any patron sitting at the tables could not consume any alcoholic beverages of any kind (even though the sidewalk is considered to be the property of the storefront owner). I knew immediately that I wanted to present to council and ask that they amend this part of the ordinance because my business was BYOB and being BYOB was a major draw for my patrons. I knew that I would be fighting an uphill battle, so I set out and began to collect signatures and comments from the public (both Bellevue residents and beyond – after all, restaurants attract patrons from all over the city.). I collected about 450 signatures and presented the petition to council. I asked that they amend the ordinance so that my patrons could enjoy their meals while enjoying their BYOB libations at a sidewalk table. The debate over this issue lasted nearly 3 months (the nice weather was nearly over by the time it concluded). Near the end of the debate, it was proposed that the council grant a simple 45 day trial of allowing BYOB at sidewalk tables before amending the ordinance entirely. Both the request to amend the ordinance, as well as the proposed 45 day trial period were voted down by the majority.
THE ALTERNATIVE, PROACTIVE SOLUTION:
Grant the request for the 45 day trial. Take a petition of 450+ signatures seriously. That’s a lot of names and a lot of patrons for a small business to have – how many of those people would patronize OTHER Bellevue businesses once they’re in town? Take a look around at other towns, do they have outdoor/sidewalk seating? Are restrictions put on patrons regarding consumption of libations at sidewalk tables in other towns? Do businesses in other towns have to pay a fee to allow their patrons to sit outside? What are the regulations put on outdoor seating in Shadyside, Lawrenceville, Regent Square, Sewickley, Squirrel Hill? Take a walk through these areas, does the increased sidewalk traffic make the town feel safe/unsafe, attractive/unattractive, etc? Could allowing a 45 day trial prove that this will NOT be a problem in the borough of Bellevue? Put a little trust in the business owners, do you think a business owner would allow an out-of-control patron to continue to drink or cause a problem in their establishment? And finally, what is the major FEAR of having patrons at sidewalk tables? Our sidewalks are wider than most sidewalks in other towns that allow sidewalk seating. We have a great walkable, flat business district that is just begging for sidewalk tables & umbrellas. Think BIG – could this small change kick-start some other businesses to take advantage of allowing their customers to enjoy their meal/drinks outside? Perhaps it could really help to beautify the business district and create a draw for new patrons. Take a positive approach: Pass the 45 day trial run – followed by a blurb about it in the local e-newsletter, and encourage the local residents to take advantage of the walkability of Bellevue, great weather, good food, and outdoor BYOB option.
What is the worst that could have happened if the 45 day trial was passed?
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” - Andrew Smith