Sidewalk cafe rules examined for downtown FD

Getting approval for a sidewalk cafe or an outdoor sales area in downtown Fort Dodge would be made easier under a proposal being considered by city leaders.

”I’d like to shorten that window between the time someone says they want to do it and the time they can actually do it,” Stephanie Houk Sheetz, the senior city planner, said Tuesday.

She introduced the proposal to the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District.

Sidewalk cafes and outdoor sales areas are now legal downtown if the business owner gets a special exception from the Board of Adjustment. Sheetz said she wants to switch to a process in which the business owner could get a permit from the city without having to go to the Board of Adjustment.

Such a switch would have to be approved by the City Council.

Sheetz said only a downtown business that’s adjacent to the public right-of-way would be eligible for a permit. She added that the cafe or sales area could occupy six feet of the 11-foot wide sidewalk.

No businesses are currently expressing an interest in either a sidewalk cafe or an outdoor sales area, according to Sheetz. She said she’s working on the idea as a way to plan for the future.

Jim Bird, the vice chairman of the district’s board and an owner of Olde Boston’s Restaurant & Pub, said a sidewalk cafe isn’t likely to be a big money-maker for restaurants.

The board took no action regarding the proposal.

In other business, Bird and board Chairman Rich Seltz reported that Snyder & Associates, of Ankeny, is working on a marketing plan for downtown Fort Dodge.

”We’re focusing on the whole downtown area,” Seltz said. ”The crosstown connector is not the focus of this program.”

Bird said an initial presentation of the marketing plan is expected in mid-March.

Snyder & Associates was hired last month to prepare the marketing plan for a maximum cost of $29,500.

The Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District is a roughly 32 block area in which property owners pay an extra tax to finance improvements there.