Sidewalk cafe rules change advances

A streamlined process for allowing the creation of cafes and retail areas on the sidewalks of downtown Fort Dodge was endorsed Tuesday by the city’s Plan and Zoning Commission.

Members of the panel, however, requested that the proposed rules be written in a way that would prohibit businesses from setting up outdoor smoking areas on the sidewalks.

”It’s not out of line because it’s city property,” commission member Mike Doyle said of the ban on smoking areas.

Sidewalk cafes and retail display areas are already allowed. To get permission to set one up, a business manager must go to the city’s Board of Appeals to get a form of permission called a special exception. That process requires the filing of documents and action by the board during a public meeting.

The new proposal would enable those business managers to get the needed permission by applying for a permit to be issued by the city staff. As part of that process, the business would have to pay a $100 fee, enter a lease with the city government and meet insurance requirements.

The cafe or sales area could occupy a maximum of six feet on the 11-foot wide sidewalk. It would be allowed to be in place between May 1 and Oct. 31.

Stephanie Houk Sheetz, the senior city planner, told the commission that allowing such sidewalk activities helps to create an attractive ambience downtown.

”When people see people sitting outside they say ‘Oh, I want to go there,”’ she said.

Commission member Kim Motl was absent from the otherwise unanimous vote to endorse the sidewalk rules. The proposal now goes to the City Council.

In other business Tuesday, the commission approved the preliminary plat for the new entertainment center to be created at First Avenue South and 32nd Street. The plat is a drawing which shows the locations of the building and an extension of First Avenue South. A final plat will have to be submitted and approved before construction can begin.

The center, to be owned by TJK Enterprises, of Fort Dodge, is expected to open this summer.