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Amended ordinance broadens business use of sidewalks

WILLMAR -- An ordinance amended by the Willmar City Council in an 8-0 vote Monday night broadens use of sidewalks by businesses in the the downtown central business district.

The Hub
Willmar City Council held a hearing Monday on amending the city sidewalk ordinance. The change would affect downtown businesses such as those that will be housed at the Hub near the Barn Theatre. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR - An ordinance amended by the Willmar City Council in an 8-0 vote Monday night broadens use of sidewalks by businesses in the the downtown central business district.
The council voted after holding a public hearing called to consider adopting several proposed amendments to the current sidewalk ordinance.
Although the ordinance as adopted would be city-wide, most of the activity is expected to take place in the central business district, said Bruce Peterson, planning and development director.
The revisions allow businesses such as restaurants to use the sidewalks seven days per week instead of six and will allow consumption of alcoholic beverages on the sidewalk by officially licensed liquor establishments that have outdoor seating.
Also, the amended ordinance will require that furniture placed on the sidewalk be suitable and be manufactured for outdoor use and that the furniture be maintained in order to maintain a certain standard downtown.
In addition, the amended ordinance prohibits placing the furniture on the sidewalk from December through February.

Peterson said the matter has been before the council several times and the most recent amendment was dealing with the suitability of the furniture. Adoption of the amended ordinance was recommended by staff, Peterson said.
Mayor Frank Yanish opened the public hearing, but no one from the public spoke about the amendments.
Yanish closed the hearing and moved the matter to the council table where Denis Anderson offered a resolution, seconded by Bruce DeBlieck, to adopt the ordinance.
During the discussion, councilman Ron Christianson asked Peterson for examples of where tables and chairs would not be allowed.
Peterson said the ordinance requires that a five-foot pedestrian traffic-way remain open on the sidewalk. He said each business use of the public sidewalk will be done on a permit basis. When a business applies for a permit, the business will be required to provide information that shows the size and proposed location of the furniture.
Peterson said the information will allow staff to quickly determine whether or not the site can accommodate that type of use.
Peterson said Christianson correctly pointed out that there will be instances in which locations with existing benches, trees, utility vaults and other structures may conflict with the ability of the business to use the sidewalk space.
β€œJust because the ordinance allows for it does not mean that every property is going to be able to utilize the ordinance and have the sidewalk available to them,’’ he said.
Peterson said certain streets, such as Fourth Street, which has wider right-of-ways, will provide for more options for businesses. But certain blocks such as the back side of Benson Avenue have narrower sidewalks that may not work for a particular business, Peterson said.
Christianson asked who will enforce the ordinance: city staff, community service officers or complaints from the public.
Peterson thought all of the above. If staff recognizes an obvious violation, it will be addressed, and Peterson said he would expect community service officers would be versed on the ordinance.
Also, the public as it becomes better educated about the ordinance will understand better and will be a position to tell staff when things don’t seem right or don’t work right, and staff will deal with the business owner.
Councilman Jim Dokken asked how many inquiries the city has received in the last two years to allow tables and chairs on the sidewalk.
Peterson said at least three or four businesses in the central business district currently have tables and chairs because the city already allows it, and Peterson anticipates more coming.
Dokken said he was in a town within 30 miles of Willmar that allows tables and chairs on the sidewalk and he said it seems to be accepted quite well there.
Peterson said he expects very few issues to arise.
β€œIt’s done universally,’’ he said. β€œWe’re probably one of the few cities that had the six-day-a-week restriction. Most cities have gone to allowing alcohol service … in those controlled conditions.’’
One supporter of the amended ordinance at the council meeting was Warren Hagen, owner of Hagen Orthotics and Prosthetics, located downtown. After the vote was taken, Hagen told the Tribune he was pleased the council was able to work together and extend the outdoor seating to seven days a week.
Four other ordinance supporters included Liv Fuchs, co-owner of the Foxhole Brewhouse being developed downtown.
β€œIt’s very exciting, not only for us, but the whole community,’’ Fuchs said. β€œIt shows that the people of Willmar and the council are ready for some good changes to happen.’’

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