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Minneapolis's restaurant patio ordinance: It's baaack

The Cafeteria Skybar: A councilwoman has her eye on you

The Cafeteria Skybar: A councilwoman has her eye on you

Remember back in March, when Minneapolis City Councilwoman Meg Tuthill proposed an ordinance that would put restrictions on restaurant patios, included the number of people allowed outdoors and a ban on amplified music after 10 p.m.?

The idea caused such a stink among restaurant owners, neighborhood groups, and patio lovers that Tuthill quickly withdrew the idea, saying she was going to seek more input from the community. "I have every intention of bringing it back to the table," she said at the time, undaunted by the uproar.

True to her word, Tuthill has reintroduced her plan, and, with bar and restaurant owners already gearing up for a fight, she may get more community input than she bargained for.

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The City Council's Regulatory, Energy, and the Environment Committee will hold a public hearing on June 6 to discuss the newest version. Dozens of restaurant and bar owners are mobilizing with a "call to action" on the proposal, which hasn't changed much from the previous bill. The measure would exempt outdoor dining in the downtown core but would apply everywhere else, including Uptown, which sports several hugely popular patios such as Stella's, Uptown Cafeteria, and Cowboy Slim's.

Tuthill says the outdoor dining restrictions are necessary to curb problems in nearby neighborhoods such as noise from music and loud patrons, vandalism, and the usual peeing and barfing in neighbors' yards.

Those are valid concerns, but it's hard to imagine the idea will be any more popular now, in the midst of patio season, than it was in the dead of winter. The first time around, the blowback from the proposal was swift and intense. Restaurants owners, for whom patios can be a big part of their summer income, created a Facebook page that drew hundreds of angry fans within hours. A Hot Dish post at the time drew nearly 70 comments, with only 10 percent in support of the idea.

Red Stag

Red Stag

Restaurateurs are concerned about several potentially onerous regulations in the bill, and about text so vague they aren't sure what the consequences might be. For example, the bill would:

  • require owners to set a "maximum customer capacity" for outdoor dining space, including anyone standing around or waiting to be seated. It would require restaurants to make sure the number isn't exceeded and to provide "accurate occupancy counts" on request.
  • bar any amplified sound or speakers after 10 p.m.
  • allow the City Council to reduce the hours of any outdoor area and "impose any reasonable and necessary conditions upon operation" to address the concerns of neighbors.
  • require restaurants to post a sign reminding patrons to respect neighbors, which must include a phone number that has to be answered at all times by a manager or someone with authority to address complaints.

Owners outside downtown also fear a new law would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Hang on to your forks, patio fans--this could get interesting. Previous coverage: