City revisits outdoor dining fee

After recoiling from an unpopular spike in the cost of outdoor dining fees to $650 last year, the city is returning to the table with four options to soften the increase, but with more input from restaurant owners.

Just six restaurant owners and one resident showed up at a community meeting Wednesday evening to hear about the options, which include one that has a flat rate and others that have add-ons based on the number of tables, number of chairs or square footage.

With the flat-rate option, restaurateurs would pay $450 initially to provide seating on the sidewalk outside their establishment with an annual renewal fee of $250.

Due to the sluggish economy, city officials proposed that the initial fee be $300 with $50 increases over the next three years until it reached $450.

All of the other options would have a $150 initial flat fee and a $50 annual renewal, with extra costs added to the initial fee and renewal.

One option would add $15 per chair, while another would tack on $50 per table.

Since the 1990s, the city had charged a $50 fee for an outdoor dining permit. In June, the city raised the rate to $650 following a study of fees for a variety of city services.

At the time, city officials justified the sharp hike because it covered all costs associated with processing the permit, including employee wages and benefits. But the study went even further, factoring in items such as paper, electricity and gasoline used to drive to the restaurant to check out the outdoor dining area.

In November, City Council members said they were unaware the much higher fee applied across the board, regardless of the number of outdoor tables covered by each permit. They asked that the fee be discontinued and that city officials review the matter.

At the meeting of restaurant owners on Wednesday, views about the options were mixed.

Henry Baeza, owner of Montrose Bakery and Café, and Lucy DeMino, co-owner of Rocky Cola Café in Montrose, thought a flat rate was ideal. But DeMino added that she wants to study all options further before reaching a conclusion.

Kirk Gelsinger, owner of Zeke’s Smokehouse in Montrose, said the per-table option might be the better choice because food establishments that have smaller outdoor dining areas won’t be hit so hard.

“You have a wide variety of restaurant sizes,” he said.

Another meeting will be held during morning hours in the next few weeks so more restaurateurs can weigh in on the proposals, city officials said.

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