2018-05-17 / Front Page

Parking platforms

Biddeford will allow dining in parking spots, but structures required
By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A new ordinance passed by the city council will provide an opportunity for outdoor seating at downtown restaurants, but the city is still working on the semantics of bringing it to fruition.

The ordinance would allow restaurant owners to use space in front of the establishment that’s not connected to the building, such as sidewalks, during summer, and would allow restaurants without sufficient sidewalk space to use a public parking space to provide seating.

The ordinance was passed at a May 1 meeting and stems from a recently passed bill, LD 1738, supported by Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-Biddeford) to allow businesses to serve alcohol in noncontiguous places. Prior to the measure, a business could not serve alcohol anywhere it would have to pass through a public place, such as a sidewalk. The passing of the bill now opens up the downtown to sidewalk seating, allowing restaurants to expand during busier seasons.


Above, a new Biddeford ordinance could make parking space dining platforms like the one pictured a reality downtown. This platform in Brooklyn is part of the New York City Department of Transportation’s Street Seats program, which allows restaurants to expand dining onto a public parking space. Biddeford has embarked on a pilot program to allow downtown restaurants to put dining spaces on the sidewalks and, in some cases, parking spaces during the summer. (Photo courtesy of NYC DOT) Left, Main Street Biddeford at 11:30 a.m. Monday, May 14. Though city officials say there isn’t enough parking in downtown Biddeford, the council voted to allow restaurant owners to offer dining in public parking spaces. (Abigail Worthing photo) Above, a new Biddeford ordinance could make parking space dining platforms like the one pictured a reality downtown. This platform in Brooklyn is part of the New York City Department of Transportation’s Street Seats program, which allows restaurants to expand dining onto a public parking space. Biddeford has embarked on a pilot program to allow downtown restaurants to put dining spaces on the sidewalks and, in some cases, parking spaces during the summer. (Photo courtesy of NYC DOT) Left, Main Street Biddeford at 11:30 a.m. Monday, May 14. Though city officials say there isn’t enough parking in downtown Biddeford, the council voted to allow restaurant owners to offer dining in public parking spaces. (Abigail Worthing photo) In the past, a few Main Street establishments have put out tables on sidewalks. According to the previous standard, any restaurant that was serving food or alcohol could do so as long as the space was contiguous, or connected to the building. However, if there were any crossing of the public space, such as a sidewalk, it would be considered non-contiguous. The new ordinance allows for seating to take place on the opposite side of the sidewalk, with the condition that there be an ADA compliant amount of space for pedestrians to pass. As to the question of whether these establishments may have been serving alcohol out of compliance, Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney said that he was unaware of any doing so, but that prior to LD 1738 such establishments would have been in violation of the law.

The council passed the ordinance 6-2, with Councilor-atlarge Marc Lessard and Ward 7 Councilor Michael Ready in opposition, and is considered a pilot program that will run from May 1 to Oct. 31. After, the city will accrue information from the experiences of participating restaurants to use the information to create a more permanent solution for the following year.

Lessard, when questioned about his opposition to the vote, said he believes keeping the parameters required for each dining space will be impossible to enforce.

“We would need to have code enforcement or a police officer with a tape measure at every table, looking at how many inches are between each one,” Lessard said. “There’s just too much to review.”

According to the ordinance, the dining areas must be located within 20 feet of the restaurant’s entrance, can not block or impede fire hydrants or storm water drainage, and in cases where the dining area will be located on the street, there must be a platform installed to make the dining area flush with the curb. Platforms also need to be ADA compliant.

City officials plan to field requests from interested restaurant owners on a case-by-case basis, and each interested party will have to be approved by the city council. According to Director of Planning and Development Mathew Eddy, for those interested in setting up a table in a parking space, the hurdle will be getting the platforms built.

The platforms required for a parking space dining area run between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the material and qualities desired. According to a Feb. 28 Peoria Journal Star article, when Peoria Heights, Illinois implemented a similar “in-street” dining program, the city purchased five steel shipping containers for $2,000 each, cut them in half, added wood flooring and placed them in front of five restaurants for additional seating.

“We were hoping to work with the center of technology (to build the platforms) but we ran into scheduling problems,” Eddy said.

Eddy said purchase of the platforms would be the responsibility of the restaurant owner.

New York City has a program called “Street Seats,” a similar initiative that allows public parking spot dining. According to the New York City Department of Transportation website, the process to become approved for the “street seats” permit takes seven months, and includes an initial application, community board review, design and development, and fabrication and installation. Portland, Oregon also has a similar program, which requires a fee of $459 for the permit, and liability insurance of at least $1 million. The Biddeford Office of the Maine Department of Transportation said it is uninvolved with Biddeford’s ordinance.

City Manager James Bennett said the application process in Biddeford will take about 30 to 60 days. While there is no cost for a permit now, after a pilot period, permits will cost $1,000 for the use of space not connected to the building. City officials have also said the pilot period may be extended a year.

“This year we decided to try it and see what happens,” Bennett said. “We are hoping to see at least one or two take advantage of the pilot program this year so we have the ability to judge how it went for next year.”

FMI

The existing ordinance regarding outdoor seating for restaurants in downtown Biddeford with the new amendments can be found on the city website under “Videos/ Agendas/Minutes” in the May 1 city council meeting agenda packet. The details of the ordinance and parameters for businesses can be found on pages 10 through 13.

The hot-button topic in downtown Biddeford during the last few years has been over parking downtown. In March, the city council voted to approve the planning process of a garage to alleviate parking congestion downtown. Several Biddeford residents, however, spoke out against the parking garage and asserted that there was no need for it. According to Eddy and Bennett, if sidewalk platforms are installed, they will remain in the parking spot for the duration of the summer, 24 hours a day.

When asked if there was concern over losing more spaces in favor of the parking space dining areas, Bennett said he believes the trade off is pretty positive.

“They’ll be taking the space in front of the restaurant, and they’ll gain more than they would lose,” Bennett said. “It would be more of an issue if we didn’t have more parking coming.”

“We don’t necessarily see it as a problem,” Eddy said. “Parking isn’t really in high demand around 2-3 o’clock, and people will just be able to use the back lots.”

Delilah Poupore, director of The Heart of Biddeford, a downtown revitalization organization, has spoken to business owners about the possibility of taking advantage of the ordinance.

“There have been quite a few that have wanted to hear more about it,” Poupore said. “So far no business has committed to moving ahead. Although with the pilot program, the permit would be free, there’s still the cost building of the platform and the question of staffing the outdoor spot.”

Although the NYC Department of Transportation offers a reimbursement to new partners of up to $12,000 and $5,000 to those who already participate in the Street Seats program to go toward materials and maintenance, as of now Biddeford offers no such plan.

To Poupore, adding outdoor seating areas would add vibrancy to downtown.

“When I travel and see spaces like this, I always take out my camera,” Poupore said. “It just makes the city look so full of life.”

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