Planning and Development Committee discusses permanent sidewalk cafes


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st). Fiske said that with code amendments, the city could have more input into the designs and placements of permanent sidewalk cafe structures.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

Evanston’s Planning and Development Committee discussed the creation of permanent sidewalk cafes at Monday’s meeting.

City staff sought direction from the committee regarding possible code amendments that would allow for the installation of permanent sidewalk cafe infrastructure, such as permanent fencing, coverings, exterior heating devices and other fixtures installed into the sidewalk, according to city documents. The current sidewalk cafe season in Evanston is April 1 through November 1.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said code amendments allowing for such permanent installations could be beneficial for both property and safety reasons. He said currently, sidewalk cafes have temporary fixtures that could be susceptible to strong winds, and the new amendment could allow for safer, more secure fixtures. The permanent fixtures could include more stable electricity networks that would replace the extension cords sometimes used in the sidewalk cafes now, Wilson said.

“A lot of businesses continue to use the space year-in and year-out, and I think that would give some certainty to both themselves, to the neighbors, to the staff in planning how the space is going to be used on a long-term basis,” Wilson said. “It makes sense to me.”

Some committee members, however, raised concerns about potential pedestrian obstruction caused by permanent fixtures. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she was a little “reluctant” to picture permanent sidewalk obstructions throughout Evanston.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) also added that while the sidewalk cafes are great for the summer, having permanent fixtures in the winter could become obstacles to snow removal.

Lara Biggs, the city’s engineer and capital planning bureau chief, said the code currently holds property owners responsible for the sidewalk adjacent to their property, and if owners were to add a permanent fixture of some sort, they would still be responsible for keeping that sidewalk clear. The city only steps in to help clear the snow during large snow events or when the snow reaches a certain amount, especially around parking meters, she said.

“If you had an enclosure or an area that was blocked off, the owner would be responsible for removing snow or trash or anything within it,” Biggs said. “It would be one more thing for our own public works people to work around as they were trying to do normal maintenance in the downtown area. It’s something that has to be taken into consideration and accounted for if we move forward with this type of program.”

One bonus of future code amendments, said Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), would be the potential for the city to provide more input on the design of sidewalk cafe structures.

“Sometimes, a restaurant will take it upon themselves to design or install something on a temporary basis that looks terrible,” Fiske said. “This way, we have a little bit more control over the design and the placement than we do now.”

City staff said Monday that they would make note of the committee’s comments and will return to the committee with an update in the future.

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