Council discusses amendment to outdoor dining ordinance

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand – More downtown businesses and businesses throughout Aberdeen could have an opportunity to add outdoor seating with the passage of a revised city ordinance.

The Aberdeen City Council passed the first reading of an amended ordinance for outdoor seating that would now include those businesses with an on-sale alcohol license. A second public hearing and approval is needed before this new ordinance would go into effect. That hearing is Monday at 5:30 p.m. during the regular city meeting in the council chambers at City Hall. The council also passed the first reading of amendments to the city’s Home Rule Charter. Those amendments, if given final approval at Monday’s second hearing, would go to a public vote at the General Election on Nov. 3.

The city’s current outdoor dining ordinance only allows outdoor seating for restaurants and other businesses for those businesses where 51% of the sales come from food.

Aberdeen Downtown Association Executive Director Shelley Westra-Heier said this revision would now give anyone with a beer, wine or liquor license the ability to add outdoor seating — with restrictions.

According to the ordinance, a business could use the first 60 inches in front of a business facade for seating as long as a 42 inch area remains for pedestrian traffic. Jut-out areas in front of downtown businesses are also available for seating as long as there is an unobstructed pedestrian walkway.

Westra-Heier said those parameters will work for downtown businesses where sidewalks are 114 inches wide.

The ordinance also requires that outdoor dining areas be clearly defined with the use of a stanchion, hanging rope or chain; or through the use of non-opaque fence panels that are no taller than 42 inches. Food and beverages served by the business must be consumed within this established dining area.

Westra-Heier said the parameters allow for a table on the sidewalk, but also limits it to a table for two. She did ask the council Monday if they would approve of businesses clearly defining the area through the use of a different type of pavement or color on the sidewalk.

Planning and Zoning Director Brett Bill and Police Chief Dave McNeil discouraged this idea. Bill said without a stanchion, hanging rope or fence it would be easy for a patron to move their chair back into the pedestrian walkway.

“It’s my opinion and experience that enforcement is very difficult without a rope or fence,” McNeil said.

The council did not approve this request.

City Attorney Ron Wager said no permit is needed to add the outdoor seating. But, he said, penalties are included if a business violates the city ordinance. That penalty is a 30-day suspension of a business’ ability to have outdoor dining or a one-year suspension if there are multiple violations within a three-month period.

Wager said a violation could include a scenario where outdoor furniture is blown away and damages neighboring property.

City charter revisions

Wager said the revisions to the city charter accomplish a few things.

As this is the first revision since the home rule charter went into effect more than 15 years ago, he said, language concerning the transition from a commission form of government to a city manager form of government has been removed.

Revisions also include general language clean-up within the charter and eliminates redundant language.

One change to this ordinance, however, is with respect to the the effective date of pay increases for members of the council.

In the original language of the charter, pay increases can be approved, but they don’t take effect until the new term of a city councilman or councilwoman. Wager said this language presents a scenario where each member of the city council would be paid a different rate, because pay increases would be staggered as new members of the council are elected or re-elected.

No pay increases have been approved since the new charter was approved.

“I’ve been a strong proponent that this doesn’t occur,” Councilman David Bunsness said.

Councilman Clint Rux said language in the city charter came from other city charters in place at the time, but the language has been removed from those charters at this time.

“This would still require two votes and could be referred to the voters if they disagree,” Rux said.