Sidewalk policies under discussion

A new procedure to make it easier to set up a sidewalk cafe or an outdoor retail area in downtown Fort Dodge is moving closer to reality.

While the city’s elected officials consider that proposal, they’re also moving toward the establishment of a revolving loan fund that would help property owners pay for sidewalk repairs.

Sidewalks were the focus of the City Council during a Monday evening workshop session. At the end of that meeting, the majority of council members said they wanted both proposals submitted for a vote, perhaps as soon as the March 7 meeting.

Sidewalk cafes

”Perhaps a primary reason sidewalk cafes and retail display are a desirable activity is that they encourage more pedestrian activity,” Stephanie Houk Sheetz, the senior city planner, wrote in a report to the council. ”That activity tends to generate more activity: Residents and visitors see people so they also want to be there. Pedestrian activity downtown will be good for business and increase downtown success.”

The basics of the proposal to ease the creation of sidewalk cafes and outdoor retail areas was presented to the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District board last week.

Any business seeking to set up such an area would have to get a permit issued by the city staff instead of going to the Board of Adjustment for a special exception. The business would have to pay a $100 fee, enter a lease with the city government and meet various insurance requirements.

The cafe or sales area could occupy a maximum of 6 feet of the 11-foot wide sidewalk.

Sheetz said the outdoor activities on the sidewalk would be allowed from May 1 to Oct. 31.

She said she did not know how many businesses may be interested in applying for one of the proposed permits.

Councilman Dean Hill suggested putting a curfew or time limit on the outdoor operations.

”I don’t want to see a bunch of people outside drinking alcohol,” he added.

”The purpose is not to promote that type of activity,” Sheetz replied.

Loan fund

This proposal calls for taking $25,000 from the city’s central garage account and using it to establish a fund from which property owners could borrow money to pay for fixing the sidewalks in front of their land. Such repairs are the responsibility of the property owners.

Once a property owner signs up for the program, their needed sidewalk repairs would be added to a biannual contract administered by the city.

After the repairs are completed, the property owner would pay off their part of the contract with a 4 percent interest rate.

The loan program would not be used for the construction of new sidewalks.

The council previously discussed such a program in July 2012, but no action was taken on it.