Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

A tourist feeling
Restaurants may soon serve food outside

by Lisa Seiser

January 12, 2012

It has long been prohibited for businesses, typically restaurants, in downtown Lake Geneva to place tables and chairs on the public sidewalks in front of their buildings to serve food outside.

Second District Alderman Tom Hartz wants to see that restriction lifted and allow downtown restaurants to take advantage of Lake Geneva’s tourist feel.

During the Jan. 3 Committee of the Whole meeting, Hartz, the owner of Simple Cafe, presented a slideshow showing photos of different sidewalk cafe styles and layouts.

On Monday night, the council moved through a first reading of the amended ordinance that would allow restaurants to serve on the city’s sidewalks. The second reading is expected at the Jan. 23 council meeting.

“The Master Plan talks about bringing more life to the downtown,” Hartz said Jan. 3. “Allowing restaurants to do this in certain instances would bring more life into town.”

At Simple Cafe there is an outdoor eating area, but it is off of the sidewalk and adjoins to the side of the building.

“This adds more interest and is a way to make the Lake Geneva downtown more exciting,” Hartz said.

According to current ordinance, “no person shall carry on any trade or business, nor encroach upon or obstruct or encumber any street, alley, sidewalk, public grounds or land dedicated to public use, or any part thereof, or permit such encroachment or encumbrance to be placed or remain on any public way adjoining the premises of which he is the owner or occupant ...”

The new exception to that ordinance states, “the use of sidewalks for restaurant tables shall only be permitted incidental to the operation of a restaurant which is contiguous to the sidewalk and within the side property lines ...”

A permit would be necessary and there would be a few conditions, including tables not be located within 5 feet of the curb line, bollards should be located at either end and along the street edge of the seating area and the restaurant applicant must meet all other existing requirements to be given a permit to place tables on the sidewalk.

Also, the restaurant area should not reduce the open portion of any sidewalk to less than 5 feet and no alcohol shall be served or consumed at any table located on the sidewalk. Tables, chairs and other items also are expected to be taken inside or stored overnight and during the winter months.

Added to the ordinance since the Jan. 3 meeting were the permit fees. Each applicant will pay $15 per chair and the permit is valid from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year. According to the proposed ordinance, the permit “is a privilege and not a right” and may be revoked at any time for any reason in the sole discretion of the city.

First District Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe said she believes this is a good idea and would like to try it.

But there were concerns about what businesses could use the sidewalk cafe permit because of the sidewalk width requirements.

Fourth District Alderman Frank Marsala, who operates the American Legion food stand near the Lake Geneva Library raised some of the same questions he did on Jan. 3.

“How many businesses are going to be able to meet those specifications?”he asked. “I guess I should have gone out and done some measurements.”

First District Alderman Todd Krause said he had two concerns — pedestrian traffic and enforcement.

“It may be difficult to have traffic function properly,” he said. “I am not convinced this will work, but I’d like to be proven wrong.”

Fourth District Alderman Terry O’Neill said he would like to permit alcohol be served during the daylight hours and restrict it after 9 p.m.

Third District Alderman Bill Mott cautioned the council about having too many restrictions on the restaurants.

“We wonder why it takes so long to get things done,” Mott said. “We are nitpicking so much. Let’s allow some creativity for these people.”

O’Neill said the discussion and talking about the details will avoid problems later.

Mayor Jim Connors pointed out the aldermen will have another crack at the ordinance at the Jan. 23 meeting.

“You have two weeks for tape measure patrol,” he said, joking.

“This has come up before and I always thought it was a great idea,” Marsala said Jan. 3. “This is a summer resort town and it’s a plus.”

The second reading and vote is expected on the ordinance at the Jan. 23 meeting.