By Margie Plunkett
Putting safety first, Delray Beach changed the rules for sidewalk cafés to keep seating at least two feet away from moving traffic.
“It’s our job to help the businesses to create this ambiance that we’ve got going on, but we still owe it to the public to protect them,” said Commissioner Gary Eliopoulos.
The comments came as commissioners addressed changes for sidewalk cafés that would also limit who operates them and increase fees 50 percent for permitting and violations, all measures approved on second reading Nov. 2.
Past auto crashes and current cafés with seating too close for comfort to moving traffic led to the proposed setback of two feet from the curb.
While that affects cafés next to moving traffic, the restriction wouldn’t apply to those buffered by parallel parking.
The clearance equals about the average overhang on the front of a car, Eliopoulos said, protecting café patrons from vehicles that approach slowly. “If the car’s coming fast, it’s coming up on the curb — and you’d better eat fast,” he said.
The rule changes also aimed to rein in the growing number of sidewalk cafés in Delray Beach operated by retailers that are not primarily in the food-preparation business, according to a staff memo.
Those retailers aren’t eligible to run sidewalk cafés, which are limited to operation by restaurants or businesses like candy, ice cream or sandwich shops that prepare food on the premises. Under the amended ordinance, the application fee for an outdoor café will increase to $150 from $100 and the one-year permit, which runs from July 1 to June 30, will cost $4.50 per square foot, up from $3. The cost of violating the rules will jump to $150 from $100 for a second offense; the first offense remains a warning.
The allowed location of outdoor dining areas would expand to include not only the front of an establishment, but also along the side street.
Cafés must keep out of a 5-foot-area left open for pedestrians as well.
Operators would be restricted from keeping trash cans, food preparation areas and registers in the outdoor space. The city has the role of aesthetic watchdog, guarding against furnishings that are not of quality design, workmanship or otherwise acceptable.
The changes would be effective for new permits and renewals.