With a rare window of 50-degree warmth this week, winter-weary folks might start thinking prematurely about dining outdoors. Those al fresco options could increase this summer if city officials adopt proposed changes to restaurant patio rules.
The city has scheduled a March 1 public hearing to address proposed amendments in the zoning code to allow for outdoor seating in more areas. Business owners and residents are invited to comment and ask questions.
If approved, the amendments to the zoning code will add definitions for dine-in restaurants, taverns and casual dining restaurants near areas zoned B-1 (business). A restaurant in a residential area would be allowed to have outdoor seating until 10 p.m. each night. In general, restaurants will be permitted to have outdoor seating not exceeding 25 percent of the total indoor seating capacity.
The current B-1 zoning was intended to be "business-friendly" – but not necessarily toward restaurants. It encourages 9 to 5 operations, and the restrictions were created to avoid after-hours noise and traffic.
Some of those restrictions were extended to include residential zones near B-1 districts.
About a dozen establishments will be affected by the proposed changes zoning, according to Development Director Dan Ertl. One of those establishments is O'Sullivans Public House, owned by Jeff Syvock.
"We are not able to have outdoor dining because we are (permitted as) a restaurant. I know that sounds stupid," Syvock said.
Syvock said his restaurant will offer about five tables if the zoning modifications are approved.
"It will obviously help business, because in Wisconsin we have three months that are nice, so people want to sit outside when it’s nice," Syvock said.
One of the motivations behind the change in zoning laws was the statewide smoking ban, Ertl said.
"It's impact on local restaurants and taverns is such that they need spaces for their customers to smoke," he said.
One of the major concerns that accompanies outdoor dining is its impact on the surrounding neighborhood, Ertl said. With the change in codes, the city may entertain outdoor dining if properly located on a property so that it does not impact adjacent homes.
The change in the zoning codes is also a response from the city to address the growing desire over the last five to 10 years of diners who want to sit outside and enjoy a meal or a drink.
"It's also making it more feasible and more conducive to current customer desires," Ertl said.
After the public hearing, the zoning code amendment will go to the Plan Commission for approval March 7. If approved, the Common Council will deliberate it March 15. If the Common Council adopts the changes, they will become law that week.
From Patch's directory, here are 10 local eateries with patio seating. But be warned, many might not be ready for spring dining quite yet.
- . Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m.
- . Gluten-free and vegetarian offerings on menu.
- . Warm weather = ice cream cone on the patio.
- . Banana creme pie on Thursday.
- . Who doesn't like pancakes?
- . Cool dish, Italian style.
- . Grilled club sandwiches al fresco.
- . Happy hour and people watching.
- . Casual Italian-American with a kid's menu.
- . Business lunch, anyone?