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Ridgewood pushing back to reclaim space from sidewalk cafes

January 26, 2019

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Outdoor cafes that hog sidewalk space would be forced to scale back under a measure introduced by the Village Council.

Al fresco dining is a staple of Ridgewood’s downtown, but officials say the tables, chairs and barriers of some restaurants have intruded on sidewalks and neighboring properties, leaving pedestrians little space to maneuver.

Fifty-seven downtown businesses obtained licenses for outdoor cafes, and 30 summonses were issued last year, said Thomas Yotka, director of the Building Department and construction code official. Some restaurants had multiple violations, he said.

“The biggest problems we had, and the bulk of the summonses issued, were for the failure to maintain the 52-inch clearance and encroachment issues,” he said. What I mean by that is some establishments expanded beyond their own property lines, these things seemed to grow as the season went on and the weather got warmer.”

Outdoor seating in the public right-of-way must allow at least 52 inches of unobstructed space before the curb line.

Deputy Mayor Susan Knudsen, at a council meeting this month, called the violations a public safety issue, adding that establishments should have a limited number of “strikes” before revocation.

“Years ago, I was sitting at the corner of Broad and Ridgewood Avenue looking at what is now Finca. There were women walking towards me with baby carriages and they had to go into the street in order to maneuver around all of the growth on the sidewalk,” she said.

Council members also pointed out that some barriers can impede drivers from opening car doors.

Mayor Ramon Hache said, “I think some of the violations have gotten a little bit out of hand.

“My concern is always with these things is enforcement. We are really good at coming up with rules, but sometimes on the enforcement side, you know. I want to make sure that we continue to do the off hours and off days, because that’s when it will be the most effective,” he said.

Yotka said his office conducts inspections typically after hours and on weekends. And in 2018, more village officials were given the authority to issue summonses, as a way to step up weekend enforcement.

The Village Council also has introduced new rules accompanying license applications and higher fees.

Under the proposed changes, outdoor setups would be permitted only from March 1 through Nov. 30, instead of year-round, and any licensee subject to three separate violations during the outdoor season will have its license revoked for a minimum of 30 days. Businesses can apply for reinstatement.

“The ordinance doesn’t need to be completely rewritten, but we think there are some areas that should be fine-tuned a little bit, particularly the type of barriers we would permit and where we are going to permit them,” Yotka said.

Yotka recommended requiring rudimentary site plans noting the locations of parking meters, signs and fire hydrants with each outdoor application, and to restrict movable barriers to a maximum height of three feet, including plants. The new rules might mean fewer seats at some restaurants, he said.

The new rules would also come with higher fees.

Outdoor cafe license fees now range from $50 for two seats, to up to $350 for more than 20 seats. Those would go up to $100 for one to four seats, and to $450 for more than 20 chairs.

Joan Groome, executive director of the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed ordinance was distributed to members, adding it’s a “good reminder” of the existing rules and informative to new businesses who may be unaware of the license.

A public hearing on both ordinances is scheduled for Feb. 13.

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Online: https://njersy.co/2MyBvI9

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Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com

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