Ordinance proposal makes noise

The proposal will work to quiet restaurant patios in neighborhood areas.

by John Hageman

Businesses in Uptown and across Minneapolis are up in arms over a proposal that would put restrictions on outdoor patios at bars, but city officials say a misunderstanding is causing the backlash.

Changes to the current ordinance would limit noise levels at bar patios outside of downtown. Ward 10 councilwoman Meg Tuthill proposed the additions, which include a ban on music from outdoor speakers after 10 p.m. and a requirement to monitor the number of patrons on patios and clarify maximum occupancy.

The changes, which Tuthill said are minimal, have already received criticism from bar-goers and business owners alike.

A Facebook group opposing TuthillâÄôs proposal, called “Minneapolitans for Going Outside,” has garnered more than 1,000 “likes” since last Thursday. Some posts portray the ordinance as a threat to MinneapolisâÄô outdoor dining and drinking culture.

The ordinance was tabled at MondayâÄôs Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee meeting and sent back to staff for further public input and clarity on the ordinanceâÄôs language. Tuthill said it wasnâÄôt returned due to the negative feedback sheâÄôs received.

“This whole thing is about balance,” Tuthill said. “I want businesses to thrive âĦ but keep residential areas safe and quiet.”

A City Council report cited 3,987 violations issued in 2010 relating to “noise complaints and other issues at licensed establishments and special events.” The ban of outdoor music after 10 p.m. is meant to reflect the ordinance that applies to residential properties.

Lee Tomlin, proprietor of MerlinâÄôs Rest in the Longfellow neighborhood, said while heâÄôs sympathetic to the concerns of residents, the majority of bars donâÄôt cause problems, and are being punished.

“This is a typical knee-jerk reaction to something,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said he is currently organizing with other business owners to develop a formal opposition to TuthillâÄôs ordinance.

Grant Wilson, interim deputy director of Licenses and Consumer Services, said the ordinance changes stemmed from bars applying for outdoor space with a certain number of seats but then removing the chairs and tables in exchange for standing room.

Instead of the modest amount of seats the city planned on, some patios turned into crowded outdoor parties that disturbed residential areas.

The proposed changes would require business owners to apply for licenses with the overall outdoor occupancy they intend to have, rather than the amount of seats.

Tomlin and others are worried that they will have to police their patios to keep it below an occupancy level.

But Wilson said the ordinance isnâÄôt meant to set strict restrictions on patio capacity. Instead, itâÄôs supposed to prevent the minority of bars from getting out of control.

“ItâÄôs only the lower 10 percent of the violators that this is really intended to get after,” Wilson said, “the ones that really are destroying the livability for our neighborhoods.”

While Tuthill admitted most bars donâÄôt cause any problems, some residents have complained that their children have to go to bed with ear plugs and a fan running because of noise.

Tuthill added she recognizes the importance of getting feedback from businesses but was disappointed by the way some business leaders decided to voice their concerns.

Notices for a Feb. 9 informational meeting were sent to restaurants and bars with outdoor seating, but Tuthill said just 12 people showed up. Additionally, most attendees were from downtown and wouldnâÄôt be affected by the ordinance.

Tuthill attributes much of the negative feedback to a misinterpretation of the ordinance.

“ThatâÄôs really sad to me, that you wonâÄôt show up and you wonâÄôt contact me, but youâÄôll go viral without having all the facts,” Tuthill said.