PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors are debating whether they want to allow downtown restaurants to continue to have outdoor seating in the summer.
At their recent meeting, councilors discussed requests from Irises Cafe, Champlain Wine Company and The Pepper, all on City Hall Place, and Olive Ridley’s on Court Street to utilize city parking spaces for outdoor seating.
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Outdoor dining began in 2006 in front of Irises. The Pepper and Olive Ridley’s added seating in 2010, and Champlain Wine Company did so last year.
But this year, Councilor George Rabideau (R-Ward 3), who has objected in the past, again raised the issue of safety.
The outdoor-seating areas in the street in front of the restaurants are cordoned off by concrete barriers installed by the city’s Department of Public Works. The restaurants pay for the barriers and the installation costs.
Irises typically uses four parking spaces, while The Pepper and Olive Ridley’s use two. Champlain Wine Company, on the corner of City Hall Place and Bridge Street, uses one.
Rabideau said he thinks dining in the street could be hazardous so close to traffic. he also said it takes away valuable parking spaces, which could affect the elderly or those who are not very mobile.
Councilor Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2) said outdoor seating can be found in just about every city in the nation and that while using the concrete barriers may not be the most attractive method, it is the only feasible way.
“It (outdoor seating) draws business, and it really helps business,” he said.
“They wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t good for business.”
Carol McLean, owner of Irises, agrees with Tiffer.
“This (summer) is prime time for small independent restaurants, and we do a great business then, and it helps make up for the slow time in January,” she said.
McLean said at least 31 percent of her customers sit outside from May 1 to Sept. 30, when outdoor seating is available. That percentage is probably even higher in July and August.
“That is a huge percentage,” she said. “It’s not just 5 percent or something like that.”
Councilor Tim Carpenter (D-Ward 1) said he has never heard any complaints about outdoor seating since it was established.
“I always see people sitting out there,” he said. “I think it’s a positive thing.”
McLean said there have been no issues with outdoor dining at her restaurant.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive, and I think it is good for downtown aesthetically. It looks good and makes people notice,” she said.
“There is not a lot of shopping downtown, but we have restaurants, and when people see umbrellas and tables, they know there are places to eat.
“It has become a niche.”
Rabideau noted that when the weather is bad, no one sits outside.
“And parking is still being taken away,” he said.
Public Works Superintendent Mike Brodi said the number of parking spaces used in front of the restaurants may have to increase by one or two from what the eateries requested because the dining section needs to be cordoned off at an angle at each end to deflect traffic should a vehicle go astray.
Irises uses three spaces and one more for DeLish next door, which McLean also owns. The Pepper uses two, as does Olive Ridley’s. But Olive Ridley’s is on a corner and does not need an extra space for the angled barriers.
The idea of taking away more parking spaces caused councilors to table all the requests but one until they could get more information.
The issue will be discussed at the council’s Community Relations Committee meeting at 5 p.m. today. All the councilors plan to attend.
The council did, however, grant approval for Champlain Wine Company to use one space, since it is on the corner and does not need another space to accommodate the angled barrier.
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