Sidewalk Seating Ordinance Survey Results

This is a cross-post from the Raleigh Downtown Living Advocates. I helped put together a member survey to get an idea of what people thought about the currently under trial outdoor dining ordinance.

222_sidewalk

During the month of October, the DLA conducted a survey that tried to get an idea of how things are going with the new sidewalk seating ordinance. DLA members were asked a few questions about how the levels of noise have changed recently and how they felt about the new ordinance.

The trial period for these new outdoor seating rules is almost over and we wanted to get the results over to the Raleigh City Council for consideration. Here are some key takeaways:

  • 14-17% believe that noise levels have decreased compared to 83-86% who believe the noise has either stayed the same, increased or are not sure.
  • 64% do not support the new ordinance compared to 16% that support it in its current form. The remaining 20% would support with minor changes.
  • 72% of residents who live within the borders of downtown do not support the ordinance.
  • 38% of Fayetteville Street District residents support the ordinance in its current form, compared to only 9% of those that live in Glenwood South.
  • 33% of residents who are over the age of 55 support the new ordinance, compared to 12% of those 55 or younger.

The majority of responses show that residents feel that noise levels have stayed the same.

The Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South districts were the two main areas under discussion throughout the draft of the new ordinance. Below is the breakdown of support between the two districts.
sidewalk1

  • Glenwood South responses: 76
  • Fayetteville Street responses: 17

For the entire survey results, download them here.

No Class on this Sidewalk Drinking Ordinance At All

No Alcohol signs outside of The Oxford

I took the photo posted above, click for larger, this past Saturday morning. I was out for a walk and Fayetteville Street is littered with these cheaply printed signs that say, “No Alcohol Beyond This Point.” How many can you count in that photo?

I had to sigh and this is yet more ugliness coming from this sidewalk seating ordinance. It’s literally ugly as these required signs basically tell visitors on Fayetteville Street, “Hey, this is a pretty crazy drinking street and not a pleasant place to be.”

I was irate recently to see that the new ordinance forced businesses to consolidate their seating against the building. Ugliness resulted.

Sidewalk blocked in front of The Big Easy

Sidewalk blocked in front of Anchor Bar

Sidewalk blocked in front of Paddy O' Beers

Sidewalks were completely blocked but was fortunately only short-lived as the split seating seems to be allowed once again. I hope so anyway.

This issue has been frustrating from so many angles.

What hasn’t been talked about is the clear bias being shown here on this issue. Emotions are running high and decisions are being made in haste because of it.

A recent N&O article asks, “Does downtown Raleigh have a drinking problem?” There’s so much exaggeration and bias going on here that it makes me face palm.

The tone of the conversations suggest that we’ve peaked, that we have too many bars, that the nightlife crowd is out of control. This may or may not be true but that doesn’t matter from my point of view.

Emotions are leading the decision making process and that is not going to go well. Thoughts like, “Why would anyone be out that late?” or “Everyone should be sleeping at night.” is what it really sounds like. It’s a bias against people that partake in downtown’s unique nightlife, something nowhere in the Triangle comes close to matching.

Isn’t the city supposed to be an inclusive city, a true character trait of a 21st century city?

It seems that everyone is cherry picking the few bad apples. I’m talking about those that vomit after drinking too much or trashing our sidewalks. If you have traveled, it should be pretty clear that humanity is like this and it can be handled in two ways. Crack down on it or embrace it.

We’re currently trying to crack down on it, a tactic I think we should avoid.

To embrace it would be to own the problem and just handle it. Where is the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, with their ambassadors and street cleaners, in this? They own street cleaners and have ambassadors that pick up trash. Is someone slacking on the job here?

I’d also love to talk to law enforcement. I bet enforcing the new ordinance is going to be quite the hassle with restrictions like “one person per 15 square feet.” I’m sure they will have plenty of feedback to provide once the three-month trial is over.

My spidey-sense just goes off on this one because how could so few, create so much change?

From the N&O article:

The city said it received 51 complaints about downtown nightlife between June 2 and July 30. A dozen of them were filed by police or city staff, and 15 came from three people.

*Does downtown Raleigh have a drinking problem? via N&O.

That’s 51 complaints across 58 days.

Who were those three people? What kind of pull do they have?

I haven’t seen the data but I’m going to go out on a limb that they were mainly clustered around Friday and Saturday nights. A different way to look at it is that there were 51 complaints across 8 weekends, or 7 complaints per weekend.

It just doesn’t add up to me.

And shouldn’t Raleighites across the city, all the way up to Brier Creek, be upset about this? In the early 2000s, it was the entire city that paid for the Fayetteville Street makeover, taking the old Fayetteville Street Mall and making it a fancy parking lot.

Business boomed as you can see.

Why should so few have the say over what happens on our city’s Main Street?

It’s all ugly. The process of handling this “problem” as well as the ugly signs all over the sidewalks.

It doesn’t show class. It doesn’t show style. We’ve practically demoted ourselves from a burgeoning medium-sized city to a bustling college town.

Maybe we’ve outgrown the current class of downtown leaders.

Downtown Apartment Buildings in 2015

The Lincoln Apartments

Earlier in the week, I highlighted the next downtown apartment building to open, The Lincoln. Today, I wanted to step back a bit and share some thoughts about the general downtown apartment landscape and the market around them.

Here are some quick thoughts on the state of new developments that cater to the rental market.

  • There will probably be many more mid-rise apartment buildings coming.
  • We have plenty of room for them.
  • At the end of the day, we are becoming more urban.

Many more to come?

The downtown apartment mid-rises that have been built over the last few years seem to have a specific formula to them. There are several hundred units wrapped around a parking deck and courtyard. If you add in amenities like a gym, pool, and lounge then you can now, most likely, make a profit providing rental housing.

This isn’t specific to downtown however. Apartment complexes all over the city apply the same formula. The difference is in the built environment. For example, a 200+ apartment complex in North Raleigh may be spread among several buildings (3 or 4 stories) surrounded by surface parking and all the amenities built into a clubhouse.

It’s built this way because it is most likely cheaper and purchasing the available land to accommodate this is cheaper compared to downtown land. Projects are more compact in downtown because of this.

Nothing terribly new or shocking here but to me, it sounds similar to another development model.

Cheap land and a very large footprint is the model behind the big-box retail store. Lots of inventory under one roof and cheap surface parking further keep costs down. This is why there are no big-box stores in downtown, the environment doesn’t fit to the model.

So how are “big-box apartment” projects cropping up?

My thoughts start out with the fact that downtown land is expensive but not expensive enough for these projects. If a nice square or rectangle plot can be acquired (a less complex building is cheaper most likely) then a several hundred-unit building can be profitable.

You also have to consider construction materials. I’ll let any engineers chime in but from what I understand it to be, there’s a threshold around the 6 or 7 story limits of a building. Higher than that, steel construction has to be used and therefore is far more expensive. If you can stay under that threshold and build with wood, then the project is viable.

So if you wanted to build another apartment project, here’s the formula in a nut shell:

  • Find some underutilized land that forms a square/rectangle. The less structures already there, the better.
  • In under 6 stories, can you fit several hundred units, a parking deck, a courtyard, and some amenities?

The point I want to make here is that between all four corners of downtown, there is a lot of available land to play with. A plethora of surface parking lots that are more valuable than they seem are waiting to be built on.

I’m not an expert on the economics here but it really feels like we’ll be seeing many more mid-rises in coming years. Just take a look at all the available surface parking in downtown Raleigh in the graphic below.

Yellow indicates surface parking in downtown Raleigh. Data is dated 2011.

Click for larger. Yellow indicates surface parking in downtown Raleigh. Data is dated 2011.

The graphic is a few years old and only a few lots need to be changed but it still makes my point. We have lots of room to grow within.

As far as affordability goes, there is definitely a premium to pay with these new apartments only because they are located in downtown Raleigh. The supply is trying to catch up with demand so right now, the prices are high. (compared to the rest of the city) This seems to happen in other industries also. Prices drop when things have been out for awhile and access is easier.

What people are forgetting is that before 2005, maybe even later, renting in downtown Raleigh was an extreme niche. There were only a few hundred units (if that) spread across random buildings and in small clusters. We essentially had a seedling of a rental community at the time. Then, downtown living become a thing real fast and developers are trying to meet that demand. In the grand scheme of things, everything is still so early. The prices should fall once supply increases and some of the first units to come out start being dated.

If you are a fan of Jane Jacobs then you should believe that to create affordability, you want a mix of housing with a mix of ages. New apartment buildings can command high prices because they are new, have the latest amenities, and styles. Buildings that have a few years on them, may be a little dated but are perfectly fine places to live and priced a little less. Buildings older than that may be even cheaper because they only have one of something or don’t have such and such amenity. You get the picture.

It takes time which is tough for some to realize and puts downtown Raleigh in a awkward position because all this rental housing is really just starting to be built. We don’t have that history and those range of options like the rest of the city has.

Still, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that the development will keep coming (my prediction anyway) until land prices increase or market preferences change. I say we continue to cheer on these developments because what we really want is a vibrant residential community with a variety of living options.

We also need some of that available land to be built on so that newer project have to be more creative.

I don’t feel like these mid-rise projects, with their “big-box” footprints and lack of design, are that urban in nature. However, what they are doing is moving Raleigh up just a few more notches on the urban scale. I believe a few less car trips will be taken by these residents and that is the path we must take as we approach a true urban center in the future. It’s transitional and reflective of the current market preferences and political climate that we live in today.

I’d love to keep this conversation going with anyone who has insight on topics like this.

The Lincoln Apartments Now Open

The Lincoln Apartments

The Lincoln Apartments

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a tour of The Lincoln Apartments recently. The 224-unit apartment building that is located one block east of Moore Square brings luxury studio, 1, and 2 bedroom apartments with plenty of amenities to keep residents happy.

I wanted to write about the tour and, in a separate post, mention some thoughts and trends I’m noticing about the wave of rental buildings that have really hit our downtown. Think of this post as an introduction to that analysis.

The Lincoln will have its grand opening on September 10 but that shouldn’t stop anyone interested to get in touch with them now. I was told people are already moving in.

The clubroom, The Lincoln Apartments

The clubroom, The Lincoln Apartments

The tour started us in the clubroom, an open space with kitchen, lounge, and billiard table with contemporary flair. Small groups could socialize comfortably here and there was easy access to the outdoor courtyard. The courtyard had the pool, a sundeck, outdoor TV and couches, built-in gas grills with high-top tables, and a shuffle board table. Sprinkled around these were a variety of fireplaces. The clubroom and courtyard should be the social center of The Lincoln.

The courtyard, The Lincoln Apartments

The courtyard, The Lincoln Apartments

Walking back inside, we saw the fitness center, outfitted with brand new equipment. Attached was a yoga studio. While not large in size, the access and equipment probably rivals any public gym out there.

Transportation was next as each bedroom, not unit, gets a parking space. We took a brief peak at the parking as a way to show off the electric charging stations. The highlight, in my eyes anyway, was the bike storage room. A small room for storing bikes was easily accessible from the street. In addition, a bike repair stand, similar to the one on Hargett Street, was available for residents. Kudos to The Lincoln for providing this.

Bike storage room, The Lincoln Apartments

Bike storage room, The Lincoln Apartments

Down the hall, the pet spa. Not yet finished for the tour but a large tub was installed for washing pets. A pet dryer was to be installed later.

The rest of the tour took us through some of the units. The layout of the studios and one-bedrooms were optimal to make it seem larger. All the units have high-ceilings (9′ or 10′) and great access to natural light in most cases. Flooring consisted of faux wood throughout the units with carpet in the bedrooms. The kitchens were up-to-date with granite countertops, modern fixtures, and stainless steel appliances. Everyone gets a washer/dryer. Trash chutes and recycling are available on every floor.

Modern kitchens at The Lincoln Apartments

Modern kitchens at The Lincoln Apartments

Pricing depends on the floorplan but here is a general idea:

  • Studio – 552 sq ft – $1095
  • 1 Bedroom – 628-923 sq ft – $1168-$1717
  • 2 Bedroom – 997-1392 sq ft – $1655-$2311

The bulk of units lean more towards the lower end of those prices. Only 7 units in The Lincoln are asking more than $2000. The units along Bloodworth Street have a great downtown Raleigh view, with most price points represented on that side of the building.

View from The Lincoln Apartments

View from The Lincoln Apartments

On the inside, The Lincoln, like most downtown Raleigh apartment buildings, offer a great list of amenities to renters. Combine that with the stellar location of being close to downtown and today’s high-demand for rentals, you can’t really be shocked by those asking prices.

We’ll get more into the downtown Raleigh apartments scene in the next post. Overall, I enjoyed the tour and look forward to seeing people move in to The Lincoln.

Feedback on Outdoor Dining in Downtown, PUPS

Dear members of the Raleigh City Council,

I want to write to you today with some concerns about the proposed change in hours for outdoor dining in downtown Raleigh. In my opinion, closing down outdoor dining areas earlier will reduce the noise levels a negligible amount to be useful at the expense of economic vitality in our city’s core. There are also other contributors to noise that I feel were not mentioned during the Law and Public Safety meetings on this issue.

What I see missing are the proper metrics that balance noise levels and resident acceptance. How many hours less does it take to get the desired noise levels? What metrics are being used here? I would like the council to discuss this because cutting an hour or two off outdoor dining may reduce noise but not to a level that satisfies the source of the complaints. If reduced hours of operation on outdoor dining must take place, please implement a 6-month trial period here. The trial period could test this rather than putting in place unnecessary restrictions that benefit no one and only restrict local businesses.

From my point of view, noise is the problem trying to be solved and outdoor dining has been pinned as the source of this noise late at night. Due to the thriving nightlife we have, a few others contribute to the noise pollution in downtown also that are not being talked about. Vehicle traffic, food carts, and amplified music are other elements that add to the hum of downtown’s nightlife yet no restrictions on them are being proposed.

From a resident point of view, vehicle traffic, including motorcycles with loud exhausts, trolleypubs with woohing riders, and cars that are all about that bass, have been another noise-related pain point. These contributors only raise the noise level of conversation from outdoor patrons. Food carts with generators and amplified music add to it as well. The relative noise level from outdoor dining is a product of the surrounding environment and this has not been discussed.

An alternative view could be to look at removing noise contributors first before harming local business. Please take a look to see if removing all outdoor amplified noise would help. Please consider closing down certain blocks of Glenwood Avenue and Fayetteville Street every Fri/Sat night, removing vehicles that contribute to the noise. Please work with food carts to provide electrical plug access rather than run loud generators.

After this discussion has taken place and possibly attempted on a 6-month trial basis should we start to talk about limiting the local businesses themselves.

Thank you for taking the time to think about my feedback.

Leo Suarez
208 Freeman Street

Outdoor Seating Ordinance Changes Being Discussed

Email readers: This blog post has embedded video. Read the post on the blog if you can’t see it.


If the video doesn’t show for you, watch it here.

I’m into this outdoor seating “controversy” and wanted to get some ideas and thoughts out there on the blog.

First, let’s start with some history. If you recall, our downtown’s vibrancy was questioned during a Raleigh City Council meeting in January 2015. Developer Greg Hatem introduced the concerns (watch it in the previous link) and was quoted as saying that downtown Raleigh was “unlivable.” During that discussion, it was mentioned that a group was doing some independent thinking on this and wanted to work with the city to address it. In Hatem’s opinion, noise and disorderly behavior on Fayetteville Street was one of the reasons holding back downtown’s vibrancy.

Now, all of a sudden this is on the consent agenda for the June 2, 2015 council meeting.

3.1 Private Use of Public Spaces Ordinance Update
Marchell Adams-David, City Manager’s Office
Recent discussions of vibrancy within downtown Raleigh and the Fayetteville Street District have revealed a number of issues that need to be addressed. One prevalent issue is the need to re-define Outdoor Dining as currently addressed in the City code. Staff is currently revising the existing Standards for Private Use of Public Spaces (PUPS), originally authorized in 2007. The original intent of an Outdoor Dining Permit was for PUPS areas to be utilized for dining; since that time a number of Outdoor Dining permits have been issued to businesses and private clubs where no associated dining activity occurs.

Revisions to the current Outdoor Dining ordinance include additional clarity, strengthening of enforcement and a means to resolve administration of the ordinance. The two Outdoor Dining ordinances, Sections 9-7007 and 12-2121 of the City code, require a text change for the purpose of revision and modernization.

Recommendation: Authorize a public hearing for June 16, 2015.

Watch the video, it’s short, as City Manager Ruffin Hall explains the ordinance and who it affects. The council did not vote on this and instead moved it to the Law and Public Safety Committee and it’ll be discussed at their June 9 meeting.

The bar owners have definitely come out against this with some that are not affected showing opposition as well. The claim is that the bars spend thousands of dollars on policing and managing their patrons while on the public sidewalks so to not allow it, the city then has to police it. Could there be a liability issue here too? Some think so.

The supporters of this ordinance update argue that the noise levels on Fayetteville Street are already too high and with over 5 new outdoor amplified noise permits recently submitted for Fayetteville Street, the levels will increase. This is a detractor from a vibrant downtown.

I’ve thought about this for a bit and think I’ve formed my opinion on the matter. Like most controversies, both sides may be at an extreme where a compromise should satisfy everyone. Someone shared a photo with me on Twitter that helps the discussion.

That is what a typical Friday or Saturday night looks like in front of a handful of businesses on Fayetteville Street. It’s alive. It’s buzzing. There are people everywhere.

It’s also a side effect of those very large sidewalks we built on “North Carolina’s Main Street.”

Many would agree that having a drink outside is fantastic. I LOVE sitting outside with a beverage. It could be a pint of beer, glass of wine, can of soda, glass of water, it doesn’t matter. Still tastes better outside in my opinion. So remember that drinking outside is fantastic and clearly that is helping businesses thrive on Fayetteville Street.

However, because of our huge sidewalks here and the lack of defined spaces for the public versus a business, the dominant force takes over. The bar patrons are taking over the sidewalks and not allowing the sidewalk to function like a transportation network. You can’t easily walk up and down Fayetteville Street. Forget it when it comes to those in a wheelchair.

I’m not calling anyone out but some do it better than others.

So what’s the middle ground? To disallow businesses from having outdoor seating because they do not serve food shows a lack of understanding of the issue and a failure to work with those owners on an improved solution that benefits everyone. I’d like to think that a vibrant community is one where visitors can flow from place to place with ease.

If you look at the photo embedded above, the problem is the “massing” of people standing outside a bar/restaurant from the front door all the way to the curb. Is this not a safety hazard? How does someone walk through that, especially someone in a wheelchair? What if an emergency happens, won’t this slow down the emergency folks that respond?

A good conversation with bar owners could be around this topic. How can the city and owners create a process to allow a more defined sidewalk seating/entertaining area? The sidewalk must function as transportation just like the street must be clear so vehicles can get through.

We should up our outdoor seating game and let owners set up decorative ropes, umbrellas, awnings, etc. in order to define a space that says, “in this area, you are outside for this bar/restaurant.” That also sends the message that, “being outside of that area, you are not a part of this bar/restaurant, keep moving.”

That’s a much better look than the borderline chaos we have going on with these droves of people congregating outside bars.

The other side of it is enforcement and I expect that to be a big discussion at the committee meeting next week.

Wrapping up, my thinking so far is that defining our public spaces so that there is balance between moving pedestrians (transit network) and outdoor entertainment (drinking. outside. Fantastic!) would benefit everyone without further limitations that the city has to work hard to enforce.