Saugatuck Officials Cheered For Finding Way To Allow For Outdoor Restaurant Seating
For 26 years as co-owner of Monroe’s Cafe-Grill in downtown Saugatuck, Kate Casey could not take full advantage of what she and fellow restaurateurs say is essentially a customer-driven amenity: the opportunity to dine outside of the restaurant building.
That changed on Wednesday morning when the Saugatuck City Council met for a special meeting to establish a moratorium on a portion of the city’s zoning ordinance that prohibits restaurant seating on the public right-of-way.
“What creative thinking. Thank you,” Casey told council.
That creative thinking came in the form of the moratorium, with a six-month duration period and an accompanying temporary permit allowing for sidewalk seating.
Now, by filling out a simple permit application at a $25 cost and available at the city’s website, Casey will be able to expand her outside seating space.
Up to this point, she was limited to the area up against the restaurant’s windows; now she will be able to expand outward and use a portion of the city right-of-way (on the front, adjacent property lines), and take advantage of the brick-patterned aesthetics offered by the street renovations the city has carried out, she noted.
If not for the special moratorium, the earliest restaurants could have hoped for a license to serve in the public right-of-way is the third Thursday of August, noted Planning Director Michael Clark.
He and other city officials explained that the Saugatuck Planning Commission has already approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow for that.
However, by the time that amendment goes through the proper channels - including a public hearing and city council review and approval - it would be too late in the season and leave little opportunity for restaurateurs to avail themselves of the new privilege.
Thus, the idea of the moratorium was put forth by Saugatuck City Attorney Jeff Slugget of Law Weather & Richardson.
The moratorium puts a hold on an existing regulation, allowing for the serving of food and alcohol as long as an establishment adheres to local, state and federal regulations.
Once the Planning Commission amendment proposal is adopted later this season, restaurants would be asked to apply for a special land-use permit if they want to continue sidewalk seating.
Another restaurant owner, Chuck Myers, was on hand Wednesday to commend city officials. “I want to thank you for expediting the process. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Myers, co-owner and manager at Scooters Café & Pizzeria on Culver Street.
Referencing early council discussions, Myers added, “You (the council) are correct, fencing (to enclose outside dining) is no longer required by the state (of Michigan).”
The temporary permit application requires appropriate insurance policies and the signature of the property owner.
It also requires businesses to adhere to basic standards, such as maintaining a five-foot wide, unobstructed space at all time so as to prevent pedestrian obstruction and the removal of tables when the restaurant is not open.