TAKOMA PARK — The Takoma Park City Council will vote Wednesday to approve an ordinance that will permit restaurants to establish outdoor seating areas on public sidewalks.
The proposed ordinance – which seven of the eight Council members supported during the first of two required votes last week – establishes a process by which restaurants, coffee shops, cafes and community kitchens can apply for permits that will allow them to set up outdoor dining areas on publicly-owned sidewalks within the city.
“I think this would be a great benefit to the community and to businesses to allow this,” said Council member Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3) while speaking during the Council’s Jan. 24 work session. “I was really excited by some of the ideas and recommendations that were in this related to doing some kind of innovative things like closing streets to offer opportunities for more of a plaza feel.”
While Takoma Park already has a process by which restaurants may gain Department of Liquor Control approval for outdoor alcohol sales, the new seating permit process would exist separately alongside the current sales permit one.
The new ordinance was made necessary because the lack of a regulatory process for outdoor seating made it legally impossible for businesses to apply for the outdoor alcohol permits.
While City Manager Suzanne Ludlow said any outdoor seating permitted by the city will allow pedestrians to have “safe passage” on city sidewalks, Council member Talisha Searcy (Ward 6) urged city planning staff to make sure outdoor seating did not interfere with the city’s existing noise ordinance.
“I would believe if you have lots of folks outside and maybe some music but that typically generates noise that is higher than what’s outlined in the noise ordinance,” she said. “I would encourage you to think about if they need to be in compliance with the noise ordinance which would dictate the hours.”
Speaking as a part-owner of Carrol Avenue’s Middle Eastern Cuisine, 33-year-old Christopher Hishmeh said he would welcome the addition of more outdoor seating for his establishment.
“I think it would be a great addition to have in the neighborhood considering some locations already have that and it would be great to have that for the whole restaurant row,” he said.
While Middle Eastern Cuisine already has outdoor seating at the rear of the building, Hishmeh predicted that adding outdoor seating at the front of the restaurant would give it “more exposure.”
The lone vote against the ordinance at its first reading was cast by Ward 4 Council member Terry Seamens, who said his opposition to the ordinance was an expression of his concerns over the expanded availability of alcohol in Takoma Park, which prohibited all alcohol sales from its founding in 1883 until 1983, when the City Council voted to allow restaurants to serve alcohol. The city’s ban on carry-out alcohol sales remained in place until 2010.
Seanans said that despite his initial vote against the ordinance, he still plans to vote in favor of it at its second reading, which is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Feb. 21.