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Sidewalk cafes can serve May to November

City lowers fees for outdoor eateries

SOLON– The Solon City Council significantly reduced the price of hosting outdoor service for Main Street restaurants.
In response to feedback from two downtown eateries, council members voted, at an Aug. 17 meeting, to slash the cost of renting public sidewalk and street space and eliminated a per-day fee. The city also extended the outdoor service season from May 1 to Nov. 1.
The ordinance and its accompanying policy have been in place since June, but none of the qualifying Main Street establishments have taken advantage.
“We haven’t had any applications, however, we have had some comments from some business owners concerned about the fees associated with the application,” said City Administrator Cami Rasmussen.
Outdoor cafés are allowed on the sidewalk or in a leased Main Street parking stall, but not both.
The annual fee for placing outdoor service on the sidewalk is $5 per square-foot, while those utilizing the street would pay the $5 for any used portion of the sidewalk and $10 per square foot for the area in the street. An additional $12 per day charge is added for each parking stall used, according to the draft.
The city requires a $200 deposit for sidewalk cafes using anchored fencing and a $500 deposit for service areas on the street.
Outdoor service was first proposed back in March by Red Vespa Pizzeria and Wine Bar owners Aziz and Angie Longou, and Angie Longou was present to discuss the issue with council members Aug. 17.
“What is the concern on the fee?” asked Mayor Steve Stange.
“We don’t think it’s really commensurate with what the rates are here in Solon,” Longou said. Rental rates in Solon average around $10 per square foot, she stated, while Iowa City’s might be more like $20 per square foot for a restaurant space. Leasing a public space outside a building shouldn’t cost as much in Solon as it does in Iowa City, she suggested.
A platform and fencing for an outdoor service could cost each restaurant around $10,000, she said.
“That’s a pretty heavy investment right there, and it’s temporary,” she said.
When the Longous proposed outdoor service in March, they also provided the city with a concept plan for street service.
Based on that concept, Longou said, Red Vespa would be required to pay about $4,000 per season for the public sidewalk and street parking, plus a per day per parking spot leased. In Iowa City, she said, the parking spaces rented by eateries are metered, and the per-day fee is there to offset a loss of revenue for the city.
Longou also took issue with the dates of operation.
The policy allows operation between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“So, we’re taking it out right at the time when everybody wants to sit outside,” she said.
With only 90 days to work with, the leased space would end up costing about $57 a day, she said.
“That’s a lot of money for something that’s temporary,” she said. “The time period is just too short.”
Council members were sympathetic to the concerns over the fee structure and the operating dates, but it took a while to sort out what changes would be acceptable.
Mayor Stange suggested placing on a cap on the total expense to an individual restaurant, but that idea fell to the wayside when it was determined it might allow one business to rent a larger space while still paying the same as a renter with a smaller area.
All the council members supported keeping the deposit to cover any damage to public property not repaired by a tenant, and the ability to recover administrative costs like the review of applications by the city administrator or inspections for compliance by city staff.
But for advice on the seasonal calendar, they turned to Public Works Director Scott Kleppe.
“Nov. 1 we have set as the deadline for the parks to close,” Kleppe said. It’s not impossible to see a snow in October, he said, but in general the snowfall doesn’t stick around or require the clearing of streets.
Council member Steve Duncan started the ball rolling on a rate reduction, suggesting all the fees be dropped to $5.
“I don’t think we’re here trying to make a lot of money, I don’t think we’re here to lose a lot of money,” Duncan said, “but right now, we haven’t anybody who’s willing to put something out there.”
“I would like to get an experiment out there of somebody having one, so we can see what it’s like,” Duncan said. “To see if we’re on board with what our businesses can afford.”
Council member Mark Prentice indicated he would support the $5 fee, or even lower it.
“I think the main thing we want is we want to see someone try it,” Prentice said.
Duncan further suggested waiving the per-day fee and Stange recommended using May 1 as a starting date.
“It gives a chance for the city to get the street sweeper up there and get things cleaned up,” Stange said.
At the conclusion of the lengthy discussion, Prentice pieced together a motion to eliminate the per-day fee and reduce the square footage fees for both sidewalk and street cafes to $5 with an open season between May 1 and Nov. 1.
The motion passed unanimously.