Restaurants fight City Council move to restrict outdoor dining

In the depths of winter, it can be hard to remember the pleasures of drinking a beer at an outdoor table, watching the world go by.

But with the City Council threatening to tighten restrictions on outdoor dining, hundreds of people are mobilizing to defend on of the great joys of summer in Minneapolis.

The proposed amendment would set a "maximum customer capacity" for the outdoor areas of bars and restaurants, and penalize establishments that allowed that number to be exceeded. That would mean no stepping outside to smoke, no running into people and sitting down at their table, no getting a breath of fresh air.

Councilwoman Meg Tuthill, who sponsored the amended ordinance, says she wrote it to try to keep a lid on the nightlife in her home neighborhood of Uptown. Patrons of the bars and restaurants tend to park on residential streets, she says, causing congestion and waking residents up when they return to their cars at the end of the night.

"It starts at midnight and goes to about three in the morning six nights a week," Tuthill says. "It's out of control."

It isn't just the late-night noise that's the problem, Tuthill says. It's the behavior of people leaving Uptown bars and restaurants as they pass through the neighborhood on the way to their cars.

"Along with all the traffic comes vandalism of the property, from ripping up plants to urinating and throwing up in our yards and our porches," Tuthill says. "That kind of vandalism and behavior is not appropriate any place."

But if Tuthill thought her ordinance change would go down smoothly, she was mistaken.

As word of the proposed changes got out to to bar and restaurant owners, they were understandably outraged. Tuthill's tactics to coral the chaos at places like Cowboy Slim's in Uptown could potentially devastate business like the mild-mannered Brasa in Northeast, which doubles its seating capacity with outdoor seats during the summer months.

"It just doesn't make any sense," says Kim Bartmann, who owns Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, and Red Stag, among others. "There are very few patios that are causing most of the problems, and legislating broadly against a very few problematic properties doesn't serve the city well."

Bartmann and other restaurant- and bar-owners wanted to get word of the proposed regulations out to the public, so they started a Facebook page called Minnesotans for Going Outside. Within hours, they had more than 800 fans, and the Facebook wall was filling up with angry supporters

Tuthill says the restaurateurs and their supporters are overreacting.

"Are we talking about putting an end to outdoor dining? Absolutely not," she says. "We're talking about small changes and clarifications to the existing ordinance."

Even so, Tuthill yanked the proposed ordinance changes from last week's City Council meeting, pledging to solicit more input from the community.

"I have every intention of bringing it back to the table," Tuthill says. "This is all about creating a balance."

SLIDESHOW: View the proposed ordinance

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