Dallas Is Trying to Not Kill Sidewalk Cafes, But Old Habits Are Hard to Break

Categories: City Hall

SidewalkCafeLaCittaVita.jpg
La Citta Vita
You're an aspiring restaurateur. You've signed your lease, spent tens of thousands of dollars finishing out your space and getting all the proper permits and decide that it could use some European-style sidewalk seating.

Great! City Hall is 100 percent behind you and your progressive, urban ideas. So let's get started, shall we?

First, you'll need to submit your application along with a $750 non-refundable fee. Be sure to include a copy of your deed or lease agreement, a scale drawing, with measurements, showing the seating layout, and written agreements from adjacent property owners.

Then you'll wait while the application is reviewed by the appropriate city departments, the appropriate state agencies, and any utilities in the area. Assuming the proposal passes muster, the application will have to be approved by the full City Council, at which point you will be charged an annual permit fee of $1,000. The $750 was just for the application.

The Dallas City Council decided more than a year ago that this was absurd and completely at odds with its presumed goal of improving quality of life in the city.

David Cossum, the city's chief planner, went back to the drawing board and came up with what he must have thought was a fair, sensible revision that would encourage street life while not cutting too much into the city's right-of-way revenue.

Under his proposal, presented today to the City Council's Economic Development Committee, there would be a two-year pilot program during which businesses would be charged one-time "streetscape license fee" of $250 for sidewalk cafes, awnings, sidewalk retail, and the like. Sidewalk cafes would be charged an additional annual fee of between $300 and $1,000 depending on the number of tables and chairs. These would have to comply with to-be-determined "sidewalk cafe standards."

Annual revenue from streetscape licenses would drop by about a third, from $315,000 to $212,000, Cossum guessed, and there might be an increase in staffing needs to accommodate a possible increase in applications and reviews to ensure compliance with the new sidewalk cafe standards.

Councilman Scott Griggs, who has been pushing for simpler streetscape rules for years now, was damn near apoplectic.

"It's anti-urban -- and I also think it's anti-free market -- to charge all these fees," Griggs said, exasperated, during a rant that lasted several minutes.

Cossum's proposal would still strangle businesses in red-tape and still discourage them from taking steps to make the city a better, funner, more vibrant place. Plus, it didn't take into account additional sales and property tax revenue that could be generated by freeing up businesses.

"It's like we're grabbing these nickels and we're going to leave the dollars over there," he said.

Some basic regulations make sense, he conceded, but beyond a small fee and a check to ensure ADA compliance, Griggs predicted that the market would be able to sort out the issues the city is trying to regulate. Put chairs in front of a neighboring business? The landlord will intervene. Put a fence in Oncor's way? They'll have no problem knocking it down.

Griggs' colleagues on the committee agreed. Rick Callahan, perhaps the council's least funky member, seconded the laissez faire approach.

"Let's make it inviting, let's make it walkable, let's end the impediments here," he said. "Let's make it funky, let's make it unique."

Lee Kleinman offered a third: "I'd like to see the fees minimized, and I think we'd like to encourage streetscapes and vitality along our streets."

And Jerry Allen chimed in with a fourth: "At the end of the day it's not about the revenue...it's the sizzle. It's the sizzle that matters."

By the end of the meeting, a loose consensus had emerged around a one-time, $250 streetscape fee and minimal regulations. Council members instructed Cossum to come back with a streamlined proposal.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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41 comments
MissMacy
MissMacy

Why the hell would anybody want to eat outside in Dallas? Except for a month or two in spring and fall the weather here is atrocious.

WatchingSouthDetroit
WatchingSouthDetroit

The most disturbing thing is that Cossum probably thinks he did a great job and doesn't understand what the fuss is about ... and he is the CHIEF planner.  Just another head stuck up his ass City of Dallas bureaucrat.  World Class my ass.

AdamsonScott
AdamsonScott

I want a discounted price on my meal if I'm forced to sit outside, because I'm not getting the benefit of the restaurant's heating and cooling system, and I'll be next to traffic noise, inhaling traffic fumes, waving off flies and other insects (not to mention transients).

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Councilman Allen makes Ric Callahan look like Hunter S. Thompson in comparison.  Mr. Allen talking about "The Sizzle", if not a sign of the coming Apocalypse must at least be a political jumping the shark for that term.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Once again, The City of Dallas shows that is 'World Class' and 'open to business'. 

pak152
pak152

" a loose consensus had emerged around a one-time, $250 streetscape fee and minimal regulations."

and this is the same council that recently passed a bag tax

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

I'm all for sidewalk cafes, although Dallas weather only makes such dining pleasant for a few months of the year at best. But the "free market" scenario that Griggs tries to play out here just doesn't happen that way in real life. When you build a fence and Oncor plows over it, you cry to Oncor about it. Oncor says tough luck, the city could have told you we had a right of way there but apparently they didn't. Cue your angry phone calls to the city staff and city council. Business owners whose hard earned money has been wasted because they didn't know about someone else's easment/right of way aren't rational beings who are just happy that the free market is at work. They're pissed and they want someone at the city to know it. I'm not going to say the process is as user-friendly as it could be, but to say that things will just "work themselves out" is naive.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Those annual fees did have a legitimate purpose: sidewalk maintenance and upkeep.  It is convenient to just say it is a barrier to 'funky' to charge all these fees, until the sidewalk restaurant resembles a funhouse and they want the city to come fix their sidewalks.  One could, probably accurately, argue that the City wasn't earmarking these fees to pay for repair and upkeep of the sidewalks in question, in which case there needs to be some way of ensuring the funds are in place to keep the sidewalks in adequate condition.  Sans fees, I'm guessing the owners are going to foot the bill themselves for sidewalk maintenance?  They should, since it is an extension of their business.

Guesty
Guesty

I'm in favor of all of this, but I assume there would be a minimum amount of space that must be available for pedestrians to pass.  Outdoor seating that discourages walking isn't necessarily a step in the right direction.  


I'd probably also let code enforcement hand out small tickets (e.g. $100) if you take up space in front of a neighbor without their written permission (I would make code enforcement check with the neighbor to see if they are complaining and ask the user of the patio space about written permission before issuing a ticket).  Sometimes it's best to let code enforcement be the bad guy rather than insisting that the neighbor sues or something.  


Otherwise, a small fee ($250) to review an application that shows you have measured for proper pedestrian traffic and meet basic safety and ADA compliance, and you should be all set.  

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Or move the business  to West  Oak Cliff where you just put the tables and chairs on the sidewalk  after code enforcement goes home .

kevinhud116
kevinhud116

@AdamsonScott ....you don't have to sit outside...it's an option, Which is why I'm generally asked " is patio okay or would you prefer to wait for a table?" Some people prefer being outside and find it enjoyable compared to a confined area with dim lighting. I'll take patio any day...except August at noon....I'll wait for an inside seat then. Obviously it's not for you, so don't sit out there, but don't rain on everyone's parade about it.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@AdamsonScott

interesting, when were you "forced to sit outside"?

they ask if I want to sit indoors or outside. it's my choice...

theslowpath
theslowpath

@MikeWestEast We were somewhere around the Horseshoe on the edge of City Hall Plaza when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should write policy..." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the podium, which was going about a hundred miles an hour over the white water feature on the Trinity. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Mary Suhm! What are these goddamn animals?"

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@NewsDog  hay-sus.. The only time I hear "World Class" is in the comments of this blog. Give it a rest already.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Tipster1908 If you properly fill out the permit applications, with a plat from the county, all the easements and rights of way are identified.  I would imagine, on something like this, the applicant will have to identify how many tables will be placed, and where, clearances from buildings, curb, entry/egress routes from the buildings, sidewalk left open for pedestrian through travel and all ADA clearances.  Surely, in the course of identifying all that, one could look down at the sidewalk and see the little Oncor, AT&T, or other access lids and figure out where the easements run.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@RTGolden1  

Are we talking about spraying it down and keeping it clean and clear for pedestrians? Or are we talking about having to foot the bill for a weather-related heave in the concrete of the sidewalk?

The business should definitely have to take responsibility for the former, while the latter should be taken care of by the taxes already being paid by the proprietor and the general public for the upkeep of common areas such as streets and sidewalks.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@RTGolden1 Does the city actually maintain sidewalks? Pretty sure the property owner is legally responsible for that.

markzero
markzero

@oakclifftownie  What do they do about blind people who need to walk through, or wheelchair access?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mavdog @AdamsonScott  Based on contributions to this board, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if AdamsonScott was regularly asked to dine far away from other restaurant patrons.

kduble
kduble

@bvckvs How is that supposed to happen? Old historic cities have old buildings fronting the sidewalks. Space is precious, and there's generally no place to put a patio.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@TheCredibleHulk @RTGolden1Both of those are the responsibility of the property owner. Where do people come up with this idea that the city maintains sidewalks? They really don't, nor are they supposed to. You maintain the sidewalks in front of your house just like you maintain your driveway and anything else.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Tipster1908 @RTGolden1amlegal is down, so I can't check the city code at the moment.  You may be right, except in some cases the city right of way includes all or a portion of the sidewalk, and they may be responsible for upkeep in those cases.

kduble
kduble

@bvckvs Not in many of the older buildings we're seeking to rehabilitate. We have to work with what's available.

kduble
kduble

@bvckvs What I'm saying is that I've lived in Paris and Geneva. The dining really is out on the sidewalk. The cafes and restaurants are tiny. There are no courtyards. There's no place to put them.

Anon.
Anon.

@Tipster1908 @WylieH @TheCredibleHulk @RTGolden1  


Correct. I can't speak for all the local cities, but Garland will share the cost of sidewalk replacement 50/50 with the property owner if the property owner wants to participate. In addition in Garland it is standard operating procedure that when the city reconstructs a street, it reconstructs EVERYTHING in the right of way. That includes water lines, wastewater lines, and sidewalks. That's the least expensive way to install new sidewalks - as part of a street reconstruction project. And it makes for much nicer neighborhoods.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@WylieH @Tipster1908@TheCredibleHulk@RTGolden1I don't see your point. It's done this way in every city, even the ones that are a progressive wet dream like Portland, Chicago, New York, etc

This isn't some nefarious plot to promote vehicle use over pedestrian travel. It's a logical conclusion due to the fact that there are no economies of scale to the city government taking on the responsibility for sidewalk repair the way there are for street repair. In fact, there are dis-economies of scale in cities where snow removal is an imperative winter activity. Almost every city has a program in which it will use its considerable size to negotiate below-market rates for individual owners so that they can pay for the sidewalk repair/replacement as if they were bidding on miles and miles of concrete installation. Most cities, including Dallas, also have programs that share the cost of sidewalk repair with property owners, subject to a cap on the total size of the program.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH

Typically in the ROW in the CBD, typically on private property outside of the CBD.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@WylieH @mavdog  

So, if it benefits the municipality, it retains its rights to the space, but in the case that it becomes a financial burden, the onus is on the business that happens to be sitting behind it.

That makes perfect sense.

WylieH
WylieH

@mavdog Except they typically aren't... they are in the public right-of-way.

WylieH
WylieH

@Tipster1908 @TheCredibleHulk@RTGolden1Right... the City only pays to maintain infrastructure that is used for transporting motor vehicles within the public right of way... in contrast, when it comes to people, the City looks to the nearest private property owner and makes him or her pay the cost of maintenance, for some reason.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@mavdog Except in certain commercial areas, the city's right of way extends almost up to the existing building lines.  In those areas, business that want a blade sign that extends more than a prescribed measurement into the right of way must pay an annual fee. Ostensibly to 'rent' the city's airspace.  It does depend on where the property line and right of way meet.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Tipster1908 @TheCredibleHulk @RTGolden1  

Gotcha.

Seems like when I lived in other locales that things like sidewalks were considered part of the street as far as the city was concerned. I suppose different cities have different ways of addressing it.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@TheCredibleHulk @Tipster1908@RTGolden1the "pretty sure" is because certain developments/HOAs make this one of the things that they cover. so while it's not always the responsibility of the individual property owner, it is not the city's responsibility.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk @Tipster1908 @RTGolden1

The property owner has the responsibility of repair and maintenance for the sidewalks running on their property. This is in the Dallas City Code.

Sidewalks are inside the property line, the property owner is giving access across their property by way of the sidewalk.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Tipster1908 @TheCredibleHulk @RTGolden1  

You're "pretty sure", right?

I can't say, as I've never owned a business in an urban environment, but I'm not so sure that sidewalks along an urban street aren't owned and maintained by the city for various access / utility / maintenance purposes.

Anyone have personal experience to share?

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