Stunning aerial view of downtown Hamilton

Hamilton moving to help some restaurants expand outdoor dining

Amid the coronavirus crisis, with the state social distancing restrictions that are in place, the outdoor dining option could give eateries and bars a way to serve more customers next to their premises. But the proposed restrictions may prevent some businesses from operating such seating areas, where the sidewalks are too narrow.

One restriction in the proposed legislation that is heading to Hamilton City Council is that there must be a five-foot-wide passageway on a sidewalk or other public area between the designated cafe area so people — including those in wheelchairs or with baby strollers — can get past unimpeded.

The city’s Ordinance Review Commission approved the proposed ordinance without dissent Wednesday, sending it on to Hamilton City Council.

The outdoor cafe area of Basil 1791 in Hamilton is a model of what city leaders have in mind for outdoor dining areas, which can help businesses, particularly during the coronavirus crisis. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Associate City Planner Dan Tidyman told the commission the city was moving toward the cafe regulations because, “earlier in the year, some city staff noticed restaurants occupying the right-of-way in order to have additional space for their business,” and “it’s a great way to utilize good weather.”

“What we wanted to do was create regulations to ensure we have high-quality sidewalk cafes that also are safe, in a sense where they provide enough clearance for people passing by on the sidewalk,” Tidyman said, “as well as maintaining higher aesthetics and higher-quality materials.”

Under the proposed legislation, businesses would pay a one-time fee of $150 that would be good for years, unless the business changed hands or other variables changed.

In some areas across the region, outdoor cafe seating has caused problems because pedestrians and handicapped people complained the tables and those sitting at them blocked their ability to pass by on the sidewalks.

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The ordinance seeks to comply with state and federal regulations, including the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The city’s Department of Engineering recommended there must be five feet of clearance from all other objects in the right-of-way, such as signs, trees, fire hydrants and trash cans.

Planning Director Liz Hayden said that was a factor that led to creation of the proposed ordinance.

“A big part of the reason we want to have these rules is right now, people are putting things out in our sidewalks and don’t really know the regulations,” Hayden said. “Having five feet of clearance is definitely something we need to make sure we have, and having a site plan will ensure that happens.”

Under the proposed regulations, most establishments will be required to have sturdy, movable barriers around their outdoor seating areas.

“I love the idea of sidewalk dining,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been a big proponent of that from the very beginning. It just kind of sets a tone and an attitude, and makes people want to be out on the streets,” Bates said. “It certainly has worked in Europe for years.

“High Street will be fine. On Main Street, it’s going to be very challenging to have tables and chairs, and not even for strollers to get by, just people in general.”

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