Here’s what Raleigh’s outdoor drinking ordinance will (probably) look like

Except the task force members didn’t see it that way. What Remer and the other staff members didn’t know was that on Tuesday, Paddy O’Beers owner Zack Medford and five other hospitality stakeholders held a private meeting where they hashed out their own compromise. It looks like this:

  • Occupancy would be determined by the state building code, meaning: If you have fixed tables and chairs, you are limited to 15 square feet per person. If you have more transient furniture, like folding chairs, you are limited to seven square feet per person. If you have standing room only, it’s five square feet per person. For each bar, city officials would determine the magic number after reviewing a sketch of the furniture and space. 
  • Outdoor use would be cut off ay 2 a.m., and stanchions would be required after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Bars and restaurants would have to have a manager on duty after 10 p.m.; this manager is in charge of compliance and dealing the Raleigh PD. 
  • The bars would be responsible for ensuring their areas were clean. 
  • Permits would cost $250 a year, a 75 percent increase. 

Those six members circulated the proposal to the others ahead of today’s task force. There wasn’t universal agreement by any means, but it was grounds for hashing out … something. And if that was the case, the members decided they should try to agree on something, or at least on most things, rather than throwing up their arms and surrendering to staff, who some of them felt were trying to impose their agenda on the task force. 

As Medford told me in a Facebook message after the previous week’s meeting: 

Seems like whenever the group is moving towards consensus, staff suddenly backtracks to remind us unproductive things like "these are sidewalks not patios" and "it's a privilege". This was our fourth meeting, I think we should be past that point and focused on solutions.

“So those are the options that will be presented to City Council?” asked Joe Durham, a former Wake County manager who was representing residents on the task force. “No recommendation from this group? No recommendation from staff? … It’s not effective. I don’t see it as being effective.” 

Ashley Melville, the representative from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said, “I’m very confident we can come to consensus,” and at that point, Medford and ShopLocal Raleigh executive director Jen Martin unveiled their proposal. Indeed, within a matter of minutes, consensus had developed with respect to all but one major point: occupancy. I’ll come back to that in the a minute. 

The consensus looked a lot like Medford et al.’s proposal. A suggestion to allow bars to use the sidewalks in front of adjoining properties with permission from the building owner was nixed, as this would run afoul of ABC rules. And the group agreed to go along with staff’s more punitive violation fines and raise the permit fee to $300. It took some discussion, but eventually the task force voted in favor of Medford’s group’s more generous occupancy limits. (This made staff members uneasy, as the current code was written only for seating, not for standing, and it’s possible we haven’t heard the last of this issue.)