Hootch & Banter sidewalk

Pedestrians pass the outdoor seating area of Hootch & Banter on Market Street in Frederick.

Citing an increase in foot traffic in downtown Frederick, a group of residents asked the city this week to update the city’s code on businesses operating sidewalk cafes.

While the current code states that businesses must leave 5 feet for pedestrian traffic in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first and primary request of the residents of Neighborhood Advisory Council 11, which encompasses downtown, was for the city to limit the sidewalk space a business can use for outdoor seating and eating to no more than half of the sidewalk. The argument was that some businesses where the sidewalks are especially wide have created bottlenecks by being allowed to swallow up the majority of the walking space for their cafe areas.

“Sometimes [this forces] people to wait their turn to pass on a busy sidewalk, and also to step in the street and walk in the street to go around the cafe enclosure,” said Darcy Richards, a NAC 11 co-chair, who noted that the width of sidewalks varies between 11 and 19 feet from the facade of the building to the street. “... Where Vini Culture is, I think the sidewalk is 14 to 15 feet wide, people walk more abreast, come down the sidewalk, you know, in packs, and when they reach an obstruction that takes over half the sidewalk, sometimes people have to wait their turn to pass on a 14- or 15-foot sidewalk.”

According to the advisory council’s study, which was made available to Mayor Michael O’Connor and the Board of Aldermen, at least five of the downtown businesses with sidewalk cafes took up more than 50 percent of the sidewalk space, which the NAC residents argued creates a potential public safety hazard if pedestrians tried to walk around congested areas by stepping into the street.

“This is not an overwhelming request,” said Julia Schaeffer, another NAC co-chair.

Schaeffer’s optimism was soon tempered, however, by the voices of business owners who also attended Wednesday’s workshop in City Hall. Many of those speaking for the business community, including Bryan Nuckols, argued that further restrictions would cut into their profit margins and, in some scenarios, force staff cuts.

Nuckols, who spoke on behalf of Cafe Nola, pointed out that, besides wasting the $4,000 that the cafe paid for the enclosure of its outdoor area, reducing the space by 6 inches or a foot to meet the 50 percent request by residents would make it next to impossible to serve patrons sitting outside the cafe.

“It would probably eventually lead us to remove our cafe, losing three of our tables out of the 18 would cut our profits about 15 percent in the summer,” Nuckols told the board in a public comment period after the NAC’s presentation. “... Before even evaluating the loss of sales from the loss of exposure, we’re definitely going to have to fire people ... we’re going to have to fire at least three people.”

Cherie Nearman, who owns Hootch & Banter with her husband, Sherif Salem, also protested further restrictions to the sidewalk cafe ordinance, arguing that the patio has increased their restaurant’s total seating area by 20 percent.

“Losing our patio, we would lose a server, we would lose a [busboy], we would lose one or two kitchen people because a lot of our business is on the patio, it’s busy all day long, people love it. ... Every year, the sales tax we generate from the patio is around $15,000,” Nearman said.

The rest of the public comment section seemed fairly evenly divided between those in favor of keeping the ordinance as it is and those who cited concerns about increasingly crowded sidewalks around some of the businesses.

While the majority of the aldermen were in favor of continuing the discussion at a future public workshop, Alderman Ben MacShane expressed skepticism regarding the magnitude of the problem depicted in the NAC report. He recounted his own experience pushing a double-wide stroller downtown earlier that day.

“I was pushing them along today, about five hours ago, and we passed by The Orchard, we passed by Nola, we passed by JoJo’s, we passed by a number of businesses that had enclosed seating areas [and] I did not experience any problems,” MacShane said, pointing out that of the nearly 20 locations mentioned in the report, only a handful exceeded the NAC’s proposed 50 percent cutoff by more than a few inches. “... We’re talking about perhaps three locations in the entirety of downtown that, to some, are causing problems, yet [the locations] are in compliance with the code.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said she still believed there was a need to discuss the proposed changes further, citing her own experiences navigating some sidewalks while pushing a wheelchair.

“How wide is the table that you’re sitting at?” Kuzemchak asked her fellow aldermen. “About 6 feet, do you think? So think about 5 feet and whether you’re walking side by side with somebody and how wide that is. I think there are some questions. ... Do I think there are still problems? Yes.”

The topic will return before the mayor and aldermen at an as-yet unscheduled future workshop, according to O’Connor, who said he planned to invite city staff to participate in the next discussion in order to get better answers regarding sidewalk measurements and the city’s code.

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(29) comments

cravacor

I really enjoy the sidewalk dining opportunities but this is public space owned by all of the citizens of Frederick. If the businesses want more outdoor space, they can do it on their private property.

petersamuel

Mr Cravacor: Seems to me the City should say to the restaurants: You are welcome any time to put out tables and chairs for outdoor dining on the public sidewalks subject to common law tests of obstruction and nuisance. If your dining facilities create a public nuisance by obstructing pedestrian flow you may be issued a Nuisance & Obstruction warning and ordered to remove the obstruction. Failure to comply will result in a violation notice and a fine. Restaurants which want more assurance as to their right to conduct sidewalk business may apply for a (say) three-year lease for use of a defined portion of the sidewalk. Sidewalk lease applications will be submitted to the City Planning Commission for review at a public hearing. Only with an approved lease will restaurants be allowed to fence an area of public sidewalk.

Nrcatone

Maybe I’m the only one but this seems like a rather silly issue in which to invest so much time, discussion, and energy. As long as ADA requirements are met, what is this a big deal? Seriously, maybe don’t walk down the sidewalk 4+ wide. It drives me crazy when people do that. Problem can be solved with common sense.

mrnatural1

Well said, Nrcatone. [thumbup][thumbup]

mrnatural1

There have been comments about the width of the travel lanes on Market Street.

They do seem narrower than a standard lane, but they've been that way for decades. Buses, straight trucks, and semis manage to travel on Market St., it should certainly not be a problem for people driving cars and SUVs.

Market St. is the primary northbound route through Frederick, otherwise known as MD Route 355 -- a major state highway and snow emergency route. Reducing it to one (1) lane would create huge traffic problems.

With only one travel lane, when a car or truck breaks down, the road would be completely blocked, forcing all traffic -- including emergency vehicles -- to find alternate routes.

The existing design works well. From what I can tell from the article and comments, only minor tweaks to some of the outdoor eating areas are needed.

petersamuel

Mr Natural1: reducing Market St through the downtown to a single lane would NOT reduce its capacity. It would NOT create traffic problems. It's capacity is constrained to that of a single lane by the fact that it is a single lane northbound from the cemetery past the deaf school as far as South St. And again it is a single lane from 7th St onward to MD26. I live next to it downtown and watch it both on foot and from my car. I can tell you that the two marked lanes do not operate as two lanes. The lanes are so narrow vehicles rarely travel side by side, and rarely overtake. Making it a single lane through downtown as several of us propose would make it consistently a single lane northbound within the City limits north and south. The single lane through downtown could be striped to the normal 11ft but provide 3 or 4 ft buffer on either side to provide space for vehicles to creep past a disabled or double-parked delivery vehicle. As for it being MD355, once Monocacy Blvd is completed between East St at I-70 and US-15 this should be signed as MD355. Or East St could be made into MD355. The present two-lane format is a poor compromise, neither wide enough to operate properly as two lanes, and constrained by the single lane at each end, but wider than necessary and therefore wasteful of precious downtown space better used by pedestrians and outdoor diners.

mlschmidt2001

While the current code states that businesses must leave 5 feet for pedestrian traffic in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first and primary request of the residents of Neighborhood Advisory Council 11, which encompasses downtown, was for the city to limit the sidewalk space a business can use for outdoor seating and eating to no more than half of the sidewalk....I believe part of the idea behind the adoption of the American with Disabilities Act was to allow persons in wheelchairs or walkers to move along the sidewalk. Is there still room in all of the locations for that? Sometimes, when walking downtown, I notice that there is a tree between the street and the cafe...reducing the path...but I think that is not part of the consideration for maintaining the use of the sidewalk for pedestrians..or was I there when it seemed crowded. Of greater concern is the propensity for the city of Frederick to flood during sudden storms and there is less room for walkers.

DaisyMae17

I understand people's concerns over this, however, the homeless folk hanging out and the folks openly doing drugs along Carroll Creek should be more of a concern? No?

mrnatural1

Naw, we always go after the easy "problems" first. [cool]

petersamuel

A concern yes certainly, but what's the remedy? Low-rent rooms perhaps?

alycat

Close off the streets or make them one lane (they’re already one-way only) on weekends to expand the sidewalks and allow greater outdoor seating and pedestrian accessibility like many districts do to make it more like a plaza.

Dwasserba

[thumbup]alycat Or close just Market from South to Third to vehicle traffic at least on First Saturdays. What are cars good for there then. We drive by and gawk, we're not spending money.

petersamuel

Yes the two traffic lanes work poorly. Vehicles cannot safely drive within the lanes without brushing up against the mirrors of parked vehicles. I drive one wheel in the adjacent lane, which prevents overtaking. Market Street would work better as a single through-lane with widened sidewalks -- except at intersections with Patrick, Church and the numbered streets where a turn lane is needed. Mr Ausherman has sponsored redesign of Patrick and Market. Maybe he'd expand that to redesign of the two main streets themselves?

cravacor

What you are doing is illegal. You are not the safety police. Maintain your lane or don't use Market if you think it is too narrow.

edens30

Regarding the "public sidewalk" comments, guess who pays for repairs & maintenance? " Mayor Michael O’Connor explained during the meeting that the city code is set up so that property owners are responsible for the sidewalks in front of their properties." https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/politics_and_government/levels_of_government/municipal/city-sidewalk-repairs-driven-by-complaints-but-code-seeks-to/article_b4f57722-06dd-5244-be30-639206912e02.html?fbclid=IwAR34WndjKB8mp3C6I1sRpgffywHdv_Pl9dNMtCb6e6mIZdlf1vUs28XcS2U

msmith6276

I agree that the worst place is by Hooch and Banner. I walk every day downtown with my dog and it can be a real bottleneck. When they first opened that area they even put the dog dish on the outside of the fence - making it even worse...I would just move it out of the way.

I was struck by the guy from Nola's comments - utter B.S. There are 6 seats outside at Nola - and maybe who knows 40- 50? inside.

And it's going to cut his business 20% and he will have to fire 2-3 people. Does he think we are all idiots? And that assumes that he tables are as busy as the inside...rainy days..hot days...cold days.

Sign boards are also a problem - where the sidewalk is narrow and they put it in the middle of the sidewalk - rather than to one side.

Joeseamhead

Funny, I walk downtown frequently and just don’t get this as being an issue worth getting irritated over. The outdoor cafe areas and signs are part of what makes Downtown Frederick charming, imho.

LewSassle

I agree with a bit from both sides of the argument. But then the laughable statements about the “good old Frederick downtown, I’ve lived here for 30 yrs, go back to Montgomery county” is ridiculous. Cities evolve, the median age gets younger(dang wihipper snappers) therefore more “foo foo” restaurants thrive and small business do too. Maybe those complaining about the changing atmosphere should consider that. It’s a good thing to have foot traffic. I’ll echo another comment, address bigger arguments like the homeless intoxication and crime. That has gotten significantly worse in 10 years.

Joeseamhead

“Homeless intoxication and crime” are not charming. Strolling around outdoor eateries doesn’t bother me in the least.

Vegan

Out of all the business listed in this article the only one I have had a problem with is Hooch and banner. While as a result of knowing about the obstacle I normally walk on the other side of the street when I have decided to walk on that side of the street it is not uncommon to be forced into market street. Sometimes I just walk across market street right there because hooch and banner is blocked even though there is a crosswalk right on the other side of hooch and banner. Customers of hooch and banner sometimes decide to block what little sidewalk there is left. Sometimes when I walk by hooch and banner someone is talking with people they know at hooch and banner completely blocking the sidewalk. If someone is walking the other way you have to wait until they come though because the sidewalk is so, narrow that is enough to block the sidewalk. Honestly this regulation needs to target the business that is creating the problem affecting other business as little as possible. Have the 5 feet for pedestrians start at the base of the closest tree directly in front of the business if there happens to be a tree in front of the business. I will keep my eyes out for any other businesses causing sidewalk blocking but, I am pretty sure it is just hooch and banner.

bpswp

Call me selfish. I despise winter, and take advantage of every opportunity to be outside once the temperatures heat up. I doubt that I am alone. If sidewalk - dining is banned, I believe many will stop using downtown restaurants. What economic impact would this have?

Frayou

Was it that long ago when this was initially approved And concerns were expressed at the time. Wasn’t it approved subject to potential review? Seems like we’ve had this discussion? Or is it just that time of the year again? Have a meeting. Discuss, vent frustration & concerns. Delay, pending more reviews. Season over. Until next year.

Frayou

Downtown walkways have always been space limited, which is why outside dining areas for the pre-existing eating venues, probably should have never been approved. Should have been limited to the Carrol Creek areas. But, this would have been considered unfair or discriminatory. The problems City leaders create. More rooftop dining?

User1

“Losing my patio”? This is a PUBLIC sidewalk. None of these are “sidewalk cafes” they are all restaurants with outdoor seating. Seating that is mainly for the use with people with animals since health code does not allow animals in food establishments. And don’t play the “we’re Gonna have to fire people” ploy...what do you do in the winter with those same people? Give the sidewalk back to the people.

Frayou

👍. Miss the days of McCroys. City leaders obsessed with creating “Georgetown” atmosphere. Meanwhile ignoring surrounding areas. (Former Golden Mile)

Shemp

It’s very likely that there are numerous violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I’ve seem people in wheelchairs struggle with going up the curb cut in front of Hootch & Banter and then trying to make a hard left to go around the cafe barricade. Imagine a wheelchair teetering on that high curb, a wheel slipping off the sidewalk and someone being pitched into oncoming traffic on Market Street. Refund the money to restaurants, close the sidewalk dining, and return the sidewalks to pedestrians OR call-in the ADA inspectors from the US Department of Justice. Let’s see if the restauranteurs are willing to split the ADA fines with the City.

drewboy44

Shemp. Nice try on the ADA compliance card. You would have to close most shops in downtown if that were the case. I bet you live in the county. Part of the charm in downtown is the sidewalk dining. We are talking 1st Saturday for about a 3 hour window when this may be a problem. NAC 11 folks love to complain. I would be more worried about homeless and spice problem

User1

Go back to MoCo for the “ambiance”. I’ve lived here for close to 30 years and to see the destruction of downtown is amazing. That’s why we go less and less. “Downtown” was never meant for “patio” dining. There were only about 2-3 restaurants in all of downtown then. Not until all the “foo-foo” establishments opened did they start to infringe on the cities and the people’s sidewalk. A sidewalk is just that ... a sidewalk. If these owners wanted “sidewalk cafe” dining then they should have planned for it in their designs.

Shemp

DrewBOY, The shops are privately owned. The sidewalks are publicly owned by a municipal government that is required by federal law to enforce ADA laws/standards. Someone will eventually be injured due to these poorly designed outdoor drinking gardens or an ADA tester will bring legal action.

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