Proposed patio regulations roundly criticized during public hearing

Following a standing-room-only public hearing where Council Member Meg Tuthill’s controversial proposal to further regulate restaurant patios was roundly criticized, the matter is headed to the full City Council on June 17.

But the two-plus hours of criticism leveled against the proposed regulations on June 6 didn’t go unheard. The City Council’s Regulatory, Energy & Environment Committee (REE) decided to move the ordinance amendments forward without recommending their approval and signaled that significant changes to Tuthill’s proposal would occur before the issue is taken up by the full council.

In response to constituent concerns about noise and public drunkenness, Tuthill (10th Ward, which includes Uptown) recently authored an ordinance including the following provisions, which would impact all patios outside a “downtown zone” roughly bounded by the Mississippi River, I-35W, I-94 and Plymouth Avenue:

— All “outdoor area” applications and approvals must specify the maximum customer capacity that will be permitted.

— “No outdoor area shall use any form of sound amplification or outdoor speakers after 10 p.m.”

— “Council may further restrict the days, hours, nature, volume, and other aspects of entertainment in any outdoor area, including a prohibition against all forms of nonlive music, radio, television, and other entertainment, to protect the safety, repose, and welfare of residents, businesses and other uses near the establishment.”

— “Council may restrict the hours of operation of any proposed outdoor area and may reduce the hours of operation of any existing outdoor area based upon proximity of the area to residential dwelling units, and upon considerations related to the safety, repose, and welfare of residents, businesses and other uses near the establishment.”

All of these provisions were criticized during REE’s public hearing, during which about 30 business owners, managers, developers and residents from throughout Minneapolis spoke.

The list of restaurantuers who spoke at the hearing reads like a who’s who of Southwest dining — Parasole President and CEO Dennis Monroe, Blue Plate Restaurant co-owner Stephanie Shimp, Bryant Lake Bowl and Barbette founder and manager Kim Bartmann, Amore Victoria co-owners Jenna and Alex Victoria and Tilia co-owner Steven Brown all took a turn testifying against Tuthill’s proposal.

Monroe pointed out that the city has issued very few noise citations in recent years.

“We have an ordinance that is searching but doesn’t know what the problem is. We spent millions on a rooftop bar (at Cafeteria) with the understanding that we’d be able to operate our restaurant in a particular manner,” he said.

Indeed, before the hearing, a city staffer told REE that in the city’s Fifth Police Precinct (which includes Southwest), there have been 97 noise-related complaints since 2008, 44 of which were related to bar noise. Out of that total, only three noise citations were ultimately issued.

With such a small number of documented noise incidents, restaurantuers and representatives of the business community repeatedly argued that bars, coffee shops and restaurants stood to lose a lot more than the city would gain if Tuthill’s proposal were approved.

Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, used one of rock n’ roll legend Jim Morrison’s aphorisms to suggest that the post-10 p.m. ban on amplified sound would do substantial damage to the bottom lines of bars outside downtown.

“When the music is over, turn off the lights,” Klingel said. Tuthill’s amendments “won’t solve the problem. Clinking glasses, crowd noise — these things will continue to happen, unless people stop going out, which will result in less revenue.”

Other speakers took issue with the fact that Tuthill’s amendments don’t identify a procedure by which “maximum customer capacity” will be determined. Still others expressed concern about the possibly arbitrary power the city would have to restrict a patio’s hours of operation for reasons that aren’t clearly spelled out in the draft ordinance amendments.

In fairness, a handful of residents did speak in support of Tuthill’s proposal. Of those, Wedge resident Kris Price seemed to best represent the types of arguments Tuthill has been making in support of the patio regulations.

“I’ve lived in the Wedge for 23 years, and in the time Uptown has changed dramatically — there are a lot more restaurants and bars with a lot more seating and people, which means more noise,” Price told REE.

“I own a home that is 107 years old, but the outdoor bars and cafes are new phenomena. Uptown is not just for partiers — families live here too, and I don’t feel like I need to move out of my home because I’m woken up every weekend,” she added.

Members of REE who were at the June 6 meeting — a group including Cam Gordon (2nd Ward), Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Gary Schiff (9th Ward) — played it close to the vest and took in all the testimony without giving any indication as to whether they’re supportive of the types of patio regulations being proposed by Tuthill. Tuthill sat alongside the REE members during the hearing but didn’t say anything.

With temperatures above 90 degrees outside City Hall, dozens of sun-baked folks unable to sit during the hearing and the majority of those in attendance critical of the possibility that council might impose further regulations on patios, the REE meeting was a tense affair.

One of the few moments of levity came during Shimp’s testimony.

“It’s apropos that we’re here on a day like this, isn’t it?” she said.

The patio season “really is a short season, but it’s a long, dreary winter.”

 

— Aaron Rupar can be reached at [email protected]