Feb. 1, 2012 10:39

Downtown Winston-Salem contends with growing pains

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by Jordan Green / jordan@yesweekly.com A Winston-Salem police officer chats with a patron outside of King’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar on West 4th Street on a recent weekday afternoon.

(photo by Jordan Green)

City leaders hope to avert a collision between the interests of residents and business owners in downtown Winston-Salem by revising the city’s sidewalk café ordinance as the district’s vitality reaches a new level.

It’s the kind of problem Mayor Allen Joines likes to have. He said the drive to revise the ordinance comes out of a recognition that sidewalk dining is a full-on reality and a desire to relieve residents whose sleep is disturbed by the clanking of bottles getting dumped into recycling bins outside restaurants and bars in the middle of the night.

Winston-Salem has added about 600 housing units to its central business district, the mayor said.

“There’s a nationwide trend of people wanting to live in urban areas,” he said. “We’ve been recruiting a lot of individuals for our research park. These kind of professionals want to live in an urban setting. We also have couples who, as they get older, they’re looking for the convenience of living in a condo where they don’t have to take care of a lawn and they can walk to a restaurant.”

The proposed changes extend the cutoff time for sidewalk cafés from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Friday. Sidewalk cafés would also be able to remain open on state holidays.

The current ordinance allows only restaurants to operate sidewalk cafes and limits them to selling beer and wine. The revisions would let bars get in on the act and would make room for other kinds of alcoholic drinks.

“If you wanted a mixed drink, that would be allowed,” Ken Millett, the city’s small business liaison, told stakeholders at a final public input meeting last week.

The extended hours and new allowances for the type of establishments and kind of drinks that may be consumed will have little practical effect, said Ian Butera, who is the manager of Hutch and Harris, a restaurant on 4th Street.

“It won’t change anything that we weren’t already doing,” he said after the meeting.

What concerns him is the prohibition against taking out glass bottles and cans from midnight to 6 a.m., a change to the city’s noise ordinance that would go into effect in tandem with the revision of the sidewalk café ordinance. The proposed change would affect an area of the city designated as Growth Management Area, which generally covers the territory from US Highway 52 out to the West End and from 8th Street down to Old Salem.

The city is also dusting off a county ordinance that prohibits “the use of loud, boisterous or raucous language or shouting so as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities in the vicinity.”

City Manager Lee Garrity, who attended the hearing, pledged, “If this passes, there is going to be some aggressive enforcement.”

City officials urged residents at the meeting to call the police and report excessive noise, considering that bike patrol officers might not be in the right place to hear it at any given time.

Millett acknowledged the inherent subjectivity of the ordinance.

“When it comes to loud and boisterous noises, there’s a lot of discretion,” he said. “What is a reasonable person? Hopefully the gray area is not too wide.”

Butera recognizes that dumping bottles and cans in recycling bins outside is loud, but said restaurants and bars have their hands tied because the state requires restaurants and bars to take out glass every night as a health precaution. He and another restaurateur attested that recycling bins are too heavy for one person to move, making it impractical to dump the glass inside and then transfer the container outside at the end of the night.

Richard Emmett, a downtown booster who has observed the public input process, said a compromise is in everybody’s best interest. Emmett is the chief operating officer of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and owner of the Garage.

“If the noise can be moderated, [the residents will] be happy,” he said. “They moved downtown because they like the vitality and vibrancy. And they don’t want to hamper that.”

The proposed revisions go before the Winston-Salem City Council’s public safety committee on Feb. 13 and its general government committee on Feb. 14. If the proposal makes it through committee without additional revisions, the full council is likely to take a vote on the measure on Feb. 20.

Considering that this is the second round of public input meetings, Joines said he expects the council to approve the changes this month.

“I would suspect it’s coming back in a form that most council members would be able to support it,” he said. “We’ve gotten good, strong community support.”

Millett urged interested residents to stick with the process a little while longer.

“What a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved one — to attend a general government meeting.”

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