City seeks to clarify, tweak outdoor dining rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you eat or drink in one of those fenced-in outdoor dining areas along Capitol Street, you can't smoke, right? It's a no-brainer.Apparently not. Despite language in the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's clean indoor-air regulation that specifically bans smoking in outdoor dining areas, folks have been lighting up.So City Council members are trying to tweak the regulations they passed a year ago that govern outdoor dining in the city's central business district. The council's Planning Committee will meet Thursday night to discuss a bill introduced last week that, among other things, adds language to ban smoking."We thought we made that clear, but it appears some people are smoking in the outdoor dining area," said Councilman Andy Richardson, who helped draft the original rules last year.Committee Chairwoman Mary Jean Davis said the intent is to make sure folks don't smoke in the outdoor-dining area. "People don't like to eat in those areas and have to smell the smoke."So far, just two restaurants along Capitol Street offer fenced-in outdoor dining -- Bar 101/Ichiban and Adelphia Sport Bar & Grill. "I know Quarrier Diner [the downstairs bar] is looking at it, and Pies & Pints," Davis said.Two other changes are in the works. Council members are planning to widen the minimum 36-inch-wide free sidewalk area between the fence and curb, and require restaurant owners to use city-supplied fences instead of putting up their own.Dan Vriendt, the city planning director, said the fence issue came up at one of the city's department head meetings."I think there's a desire to have more uniform standards, in terms of the fencing," Vriendt said. "It's a little hard where we didn't allow people to attach to the sidewalk. Fences may not be as sturdy as possible.
"We're looking at making things more uniform and stable, maybe by using a sleeve that goes down to a plate under the brick pavers, so things don't fall over."The city has done a lot of streetscape work on Capitol Street, creating a uniform look. This is kind of an extension of that," he said.As drafted last week, the bill would require restaurants to reimburse the city for the cost of the fencing, through an annual fee or leasing arrangement, on top of the $25 annual fee they pay for renewing their outdoor dining licenses.Terms of the fee are still being worked out, Vriendt said. "I don't know what that cost might be. I think the city will want to cover some of the cost. Whether it's all the cost over a period of years or some of the cost, that's up to the pleasure of the committee."Although the bill proposes to increase the pedestrian space along the sidewalk to 48 inches, Davis said the final width could be less. The American with Disabilities Act requires at least 36 inches for wheelchair accessibility."We've had complaints from people who are handicapped who try to get around the barriers," she said. "It's pretty tight. You need a little more clearance to make it more comfortable. We could compromise and have 42 inches.
"We knew this was new to the city and that we would come back and tweak it," Davis said of the regulations. "It took some of the wheelchair users to tell us and make us aware of their problems."We'll know with the discussion [Thursday] how we can improve so people can come downtown and enjoy it more."Reach Jim Balow at or 304-348-5102.
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