Proposal to speed up permits – for sidewalk cafes


Perhaps timing this announcement with perfect sidewalk-cafe weather, the office of West Seattle’s Most Famous Politician (gotta use that term every so often just to keep the search results high) just sent this:

Mayor Greg Nickels today submitted legislation to the
Seattle City Council to significantly improve the city’s permitting
process for sidewalk cafes.

With the goal of encouraging more sidewalk cafes throughout Seattle,
the new permitting procedures will make it easier to apply to use city
sidewalk space. The entire permitting process will be overhauled, with
significant improvements offered on fees, processing times, design
standards, enforcement and departmental oversight.

“Sidewalk cafes add life to our business districts,” said Nickels.
“By simplifying permitting and reducing fees for cafes, we can take
full advantage of the summer months to enjoy cafe life outdoors.

The proposal recommends the following changes to the sidewalk cafe
permitting process:
Streamlining an outdated, bureaucratic permitting system by
consolidating all actions within one agency, the Seattle Department of
Transportation (SDOT), instead of shuffling applicants among multiple
city departments.

Simplifying the permit review process to achieve a 10-day turn-around.
This will save months of waiting time for each application and create a
time frame comparable to leading cafe permitting processes nationwide.

Reducing the permit’s cost by nearly $1,700. With lower expenses due
to a simpler process and reduced departmental overhead, the city can cut
costs and pass the savings along to applicants.

Substituting stronger enforcement for a little-used public notice
process. The current public notice requirement is rarely used by
citizens and does not address their main sidewalk cafe concerns, which
are noise and encroachment. The proposal would improve the city’s
policing of violations through the new Department of Executive
Administration noise enforcement team.

Establishing design standards to address critical public concerns,
such as disabled access, encroachments, hours of operation, egress,
seating platforms, and landscaping. These standards, which will be
explained in full via an updated Client Assistance Memo, will reduce
permit review time and encourage consistency.

Eliminating Seattle Municipal Code inconsistency on sidewalk cafes.
This change would reduce ambiguity about acceptable cafe locations and
allow them in all districts where eating, drinking and certain retail
food establishments (i.e., grocery stores) are allowed.

There are currently 225 sidewalk cafes in the city of Seattle. The
permits that allow the use of publicly owned sidewalk space, which are
currently issued by the Department of Planning and Development with
assistance from SDOT, must be renewed on an annual basis.

Interestingly, we had just noted last week that the Celtic Swell on Alki got its sidewalk-cafe permit two years after the filing. We never got around to posting about it, though.

8 Replies to "Proposal to speed up permits - for sidewalk cafes"

  • WSMom June 24, 2008 (2:54 pm)

    See, sometimes our Mayor comes up with an excellent idea, IMHO. I felt very safe walking through Paris day and night because every street seemed alive and teeming with people enjoying the sidewalk cafes. Paris’s weather is very much like Seattle’s and sidewalk cafes abounded!!

  • Will on 56th June 25, 2008 (8:17 am)

    Sidewalk cafes are great as long as they don’t block pedestrians. On Alki too many of the restaurants add a sandwich board on the sidewalk which restricts pedestrians or have umbrellas that are so low as to force pedestrians to bend over when walking by the outdoor cafe.

  • jai on 58th June 25, 2008 (9:04 am)

    Yes, Will, god forbid one would have to bend over, walk six inches to the right or left to avoid a sandwich board, or even, gasp, cross the street to walk by the beach. Tough neighborhood we live in.

  • Rick June 25, 2008 (12:09 pm)

    This ought help keep the peace. Re-route the sidewalk(for walking) through the cafe(for eating) so the eaters can eat on the sidewalk and the sidewalkers can walk in the eater-place. Helps especially if you’re walking in the rain!

  • dis June 25, 2008 (2:36 pm)

    some of the outdoor cafes routinely push the boundaries, leaving room on the sidewalk for only single-file of pedestrians, and one in particular does not leave enough room for a wheelchair to pass. That is not the intent of the sidewalk cafes. The sidewalk is for pedestrians, and the establishments get permission to use a portion of it. Likewise, the permits are for outdoor cafes, not outdoor taverns.

  • J June 25, 2008 (3:32 pm)

    I’ve got a better idea: take out a lane of automobile traffic and expand the sidewalk to accommodate both foot traffic and sidewalk cafes! Less car traffic would make the sidewalk cafes and the pedestrian experience more pleasant. It would discourage unnecessary car traffic, and make Alki overall calmer.

  • credmond June 25, 2008 (7:29 pm)

    make Alki chicane-like and periodically make all traffic divert one block south. That would begin to eliminate cruise traffic and probably not impose to severe an imposition on those who live there. There’d be a deliberate advantage for the bus, by the way, it wouldn’t have to divert. That’d have the additional advantage of giving peds a block of their own (sharing with bus) every few blocks.

    It’s not the art or the science, it’s the will. We have the skills. We probably even have the money (incorporate part of the redesign into the pump station rehab now ongoing!). Whether we “want” to do this is the question. SDOT could engineer this in probably less than a week and do the traffic counts concurrently.

  • Joseph June 25, 2008 (8:44 pm)

    I think this is great.

    The other day I felt like having a mojito out in the sun. Over the entire end-to-end length of California, only one business offers outdoor seating with spirts. (Blackbird.) And you can count the restaurants along that strip with any outdoor seating seating at all on one hand – without using your thumb.

    A friend of mine is horrified by the the fact that that a such a tall building is going up in the junction. “It wall block the sun,” she says. Block it from what? Certainly no one’s patio…

Sorry, comment time is over.