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February 05, 2013 | 04:19 PMIt's almost certain, barring a major catastrophe, that sidewalk bistro-style dining will return to downtown Lake Geneva this summer.
The experimental program, which opened up outdoor dining to more downtown restaurants last summer, proved to be overwhelmingly popular with the tourists and business owners.
Lake Geneva council members, meeting as the committee of the whole on Monday, went over the sidewalk dining ordinance now, while there's snow on the ground, to make a few tweaks and changes mostly to ensure that, when the first umbrellas bloom in the spring, the dining experience remains as popular next year.
The council members discussed proposed changes to the city ordinance as proposed by downtown restaurateurs and Mayor Jim Connors, who scoured the rules and ordinances approved by other cities that also allow sidewalk dining.
Initial comments were taken during a public hearing before the Lake Geneva City Council on Jan. 28.
Among the more popular changes the council members are now considering would be relaxing requirements that restaurants take their furniture indoors after sidewalk dining hours are over.
Restaurants would be allowed to keep their furniture outdoors overnight as long as they had a place to store and secure the tables and chairs.
The cutoff time for serving alcohol and allowing it be consumed at a sidewalk table would be pushed back from the current 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. or even later.
Restaurant owners have said that it was inconvenient and embarrassing to have to cut off customers from their digestifs nearly two hours before the closing time for outdoor dining.
Business owners also pressed for later hours for outdoor dining, saying that tourists often showed up for late outdoor dinners along the lakefront.
Dogs in Lake Geneva are also welcomed guests at sidewalk dining spots, as long as a few rules are followed.
The council members are considering a requirement that all sidewalk cafes provide a bowl of water for canines accompanying customers.
But that may already be happening.
Spyro Condos, owner of the Harbor Side Café, told council members that dogs haven't been a problem.
"If someone has a dog, we allow them to sit where ever they want," Condos said. However, the dogs must be leashed and remain near their owners.
Sometimes, customers bring two or three dogs with them, but usually, the dogs remain under their owners' tables, in the shade, Condos said.
Council members are also considering removing the restriction that sidewalk cafes only be allowed from May to October.
Owners have suggested that the weather determine when outdoor dining happens.
Last year, March was briefly graced with 80-degree temperatures.
Council members were also asked to consider:
n Prohibiting logos, text and signage on any umbrellas or other furniture.
But that suggestion didn't meet with much approval by the council members.
Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe said she "loves names on umbrellas."
n Requiring a minimum of one handicap or wheelchair-accessible table.
But Alderman Don Tolar said that all that had to be done to make a table wheelchair accessible would be to remove one of the regular chairs.
Alderman Bill Mott warned council members against setting too many requirements.
"We have to be careful about micromanaging," Mott said.
Let's trust our business owners to be responsible owners."
Among other modifications that were discussed:
n Prohibiting signs or furniture from being attached to public amenities such as light poles, trees, planters, benches and street signs.
n Requiring food service be available at all times the sidewalk cafe is serving alcohol.
n Prohibiting heating devices.
n Prohibiting amplified music.
Any changes to the sidewalk dining ordinance would have to be adopted at a city council meeting on a later date.