Nothing's simple anymore, you think as you sit outside your favorite coffeehouse, smoking and sipping a latte at the same time!
Relegated to the cold, you at least have a place to sit.
But you were right. Nothing is simple anymore. Now the law has come to sidewalk cafes.
Actually, the law has been there. The current law requires that a business buy a permit to establish a sidewalk cafe. But so many business owners don't and don't get caught unless someone complains.
As of Jan. 1, 2010, establishments will have to display a permit on the front window.
City Council voted unanimously, with Doug Shields absent, to approve a bill that Bruce Kraus crafted with help from every branch of the city's administration to change the definition of and enforcement over seating that takes up part of a sidewalk.
Before you think this is another effort of Big Brother, let Bruce Kraus explain, as he did recently when discussing his bill: "The law has been vague," he said. "It's too brief and doesn't address a lot of questions." For instance, "it wasn't clear where to go for the permit."
As of 1-1-'10, you go to the Department of Public Works. You give them $25, a flat fee, instead of paying per square foot - another change in his bill. DPW, which will enforce -- not the Bureau of Building Inspection -- will mark the parameters of your cafe area. It has to be no further out from a storefront than five feet. If you don't have five feet, you have to leave at least 36 inches for a wheelchair to pass. You also have to go see the folks at Building Inspection to get your site plan approved. It has to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, for starters.
The new law will allow any establishment, even a bookstore that serves coffee, to put out some tables. The current law stipulates that sidewalk cafes be adjuncts of restaurants only. No one can grandfather in with seating plazas beyond five feet; but they can petition for an exception.
Mr. Kraus was visibly proud when he introduced his legislation, which took three months of planning and brought people from public works, public safety, zoning and the legal department together.
Permits will have to be renewed every year, but he promised a more streamlined process, based on a model in Chicago.
Promising a streamlined process is a risky thing to do, whether it pertains to hobbling through the brambles of the city's multi-layered system to get any business started or to how things really go down on the street. Residents of the South Side know something about that.
They may be glad to know that chairs and tables must come in by 2 a.m. No last-call lingering.
Mr. Kraus called his bill "a more user-friendly system for business."
We have eight more months before we see how simple things may become.