Council may change sidewalk code

Marietta’s municipal code prohibits downtown businesses from placing items on city sidewalks that will obstruct pedestrian traffic, although many shopkeepers do set some wares out on the walkways during warmer months of the year.

“We’ve had a business on Front Street for seven years now, and have always put things out. And many other downtown stores have also put items out on the walk,” said Shana Woodford, owner of H. Rietz & Company, now located at 282 Front St.

She said placing items on the walk in front of the store-against the building’s front wall or at the edge of the street, leaving a wide path for pedestrians-helps attract customers and can generate sales for downtown stores.

Judy and George Wastier of Jackson, who were perusing Marietta’s downtown shops Thursday afternoon, agreed.

“To me it helps people to see what businesses have to offer,” George said. “In Jackson we probably have only one store that has anything out on the sidewalk, but our town has no law prohibiting it.”

Judy said she saw no problem with wares on walkways, “as long as the sidewalks are wide enough.”

Marietta resident Michelle Whitacre said items placed on city walks do not present a barrier to pedestrians.

“I’ve never had any problem getting down the street,” she said. “I could always get around, even when my daughter Annabelle was still in her stroller.”

Whitacre added that the family also enjoys eating outside when the weather is nice-a choice that’s offered by several downtown restaurants, including the Levee House on Ohio Street where Tim and Margaret Skinner of Westerville were eating dinner Wednesday afternoon.

The couple was sitting at one of 10 tables along the brick walkway overlooking the Ohio River outside the restaurant.

“We’re both retired and love getting off the beaten path, taking the scenic routes to towns like Marietta,” Tim said.

His wife agreed.

“We’ve decided to take time to enjoy all the things that Ohio has to offer,” she said, adding that the couple was purposefully looking for a place where they could dine outdoors and the Levee House was a perfect spot.

“We didn’t want to sit indoors on a beautiful day like this,” Tim added.

Levee House owners David and Kimberly Hearing said the sidewalk tables are popular and bring a lot of business to the restaurant.

“They’re always full or nearly full,” David said. “It’s a big draw during the summer months.”

But he noted that the city requires the restaurant to purchase a permit so that tables and chairs can be placed on the sidewalk for the diners.

“It’s not a big concern for us to obtain the permit, although we also have to provide liability insurance to cover that area of the sidewalk,” David said.

The Levee House is one of five downtown eateries that have obtained permits to allow customers to eat at tables on the sidewalks, which are part of the city’s right of way.

Other facilities include the Third Street Deli, Marietta Wine Cellars, Austyn’s and The Original Pizza Place.

To obtain a permit the restaurant owner must currently file a request with the city streets and transportation committee with a drawing of the sidewalk area to be used. The request then goes before city council for approval.

The 5-year permits are $150 for the first year and $1 for the remaining four years, for a total of $154.

At least two downtown establishments-Wild Rivers tea room and the Skyline Cafe, both on Putnam Street-were issued citations last month for placing tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of their businesses without having a permit.

City safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said the businesses were simply not in compliance with the code governing use of city sidewalks and were therefore issued the citations to appear in Marietta Municipal Court.

Wild Rivers received two citations which carry $95 court costs apiece, and Skyline Cafe owner Steve Barros received one citation.

During a streets and transportation committee meeting last week Tumas-Serna said the state and municipal laws regulating use of the sidewalks seem to be contradictory. One section of the code, 722.02 (a) says merchants can “…sell merchandise, wares, goods, foods, periodicals or other articles on the sidewalk located immediately adjacent to the front of their business so long as pedestrian movement is not unduly hindered thereby.”

But another section, 521.04 (c) states “No person shall place, deposit or maintain any merchandise, goods, material or equipment upon any sidewalk so as to obstruct pedestrian traffic…”

Barros, who has been in business for five years on Putnam Street, has had tables on the walkway for some time, but said he had not been familiar with the sidewalk regulation before the citation was issued last month.

“I personally believe having tables or other items outside help make the city sidewalks more appealing,” he said.

But Barros agreed that the current law seemed to a bit ambiguous, and noted that city council is now moving to make changes that will help clarify the regulations for everyone.

“I agree with what they’re planning to do now,” Barros said. “They want to make changes in order to better communicate the law to everyone.”

Hupp said Thursday that he and Mayor Joe Matthews had asked the city law director to have the citations withdrawn that were issued against Wild Rivers and the Skyline Cafe.

Following Thursday’s city council meeting law director Paul Bertram said he had entered a motion for the citations to be withdrawn.

Neither Hupp nor Bertram were aware of any other citations that had been issued against downtown businesses related to the sidewalk ordinance in recent years.

Bertram also said the permits are currently only required of eating establishments who want to place tables and chairs on the sidewalks. Other merchants are able to set items on the walkways as long as they are reasonable and do not obstruct pedestrian traffic.

During Thursday’s council meeting Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said he had counted at least seven businesses along Front Street alone that had items placed on the sidewalks.

Also during that session, streets and transportation committee chairman Denver Abicht, D-at large, announced that a public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 17 in the community building at Lookout Park to discuss the sidewalk regulations and consider potential changes.

Abicht encouraged all downtown merchants to attend, saying they could provide valuable input about the issue that would help improve the sidewalk code.