Downtown sidewalk cafes get OK to open April 1 City advances date to help owners recoup snowstorm losses

March 21, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Sidewalk cafes could open in Annapolis' downtown Historic District within weeks, depending on the weather.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and six aldermen, enough for a quorum, voted unanimously in a special meeting yesterday to advance the starting date for sidewalk cafes to April 1 from May 1.

The vote corrects a narrow interpretation of the original law, which forced businesses to wait until May 1 to begin sidewalk cafes, said Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, an 8th Ward Democrat.

City officials said the change would help restaurant owners, who lost business during the winter's crippling snowstorms, by giving them something that would attract more customers when the weather breaks.

"This winter has been a real devasta- tion for us," said Pietro Priola, owner of Maria's Sicilian Ristorante and Cafe on Market Space who stopped by City Hall yesterday to inquire about the permits. "That extra month we'll be getting is really going to help."

The issue of sidewalk cafes was at the center of a battle last year among preservationists, downtown residents and business owners over Main Street's future. Preservationists and residents said that the cafes would turn downtown into a late-night outdoor party zone. Business owners and some aldermen said the cafes would help the economy and provide a more cosmopolitan feel.

The city council voted in September to temporarily allow restaurants along Main Street to open sidewalk cafes from Sept. 29 to Dec. 15, then passed permanent legislation in November.

None of the downtown restaurant owners have filed applications yet, but open-air dining can begin as soon as they get their applications to City Hall, pay a $300 fee and receive their year-long permits, aldermen said.

In another issue, the council decided not to take action on an ordinance that would allow the Markethouse Tenants Association to place tables and chairs on the sidewalks. The ordinance will be taken up at the April 8 council meeting.

Alderman Samuel Gilmer said the ordinance did not protect the city if anyone should be injured in the Markethouse's outside area.

"I think the ordinance should say that the association should put aside money or an insurance fund to handle any legal action that might come up against them," said Mr. Gilmer, a 3rd Ward Democrat. "If the association doesn't have any money, who are those people going to sue? The city."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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