‘Dining out’ could add to café culture

Neighborhood businesses long barred from putting tables and chairs outside may soon see a different picture.

In many cases these neighborhood business have watched over the years as zoning changes went into effect around them, leaving their establishments in “nonconforming” status and ending their chances to apply for a permit to put tables and chairs outdoors. Most of these businesses are on the ground floor of buildings with residences above them or in residential areas of The City.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi plans on introducing legislation Tuesday that would allow these nonconforming businesses to apply, like other businesses do, with the Department of Public Works for a permit to put tables and chairs outdoors.

If the legislation is approved, then “a majority of your small 'mom and pop' corner stores and small business cafes would be able to seek a permit to provide seats and chairs,” said Dan Sider, legislative liaison for The City's Planning Department.

“This is San Francisco. People who come here expect to see our city peppered with restaurants and outdoor cafes. It's amazing how few we have,” Mirkarimi said.

The business community is expected to embrace the legislation, saying it would go far to increase profit as well as invigorate the neighborhoods.

“Most businesses are driven by consumer demand,” said Kevin Westlye, director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “On nice days, consumers like to sit outdoors.”

Westlye added, “Outdoor seating helps the neighborhood come alive and people feel more safe and comfortable in the neighborhood because people are visible on the street.”

These businesses would adhere to existing regulations, requiring tables and chairs to be placed only in front of the businesses and only when at least six feet of sidewalk space remains. The permit to place tables and chairs outside costs between $100 and $360, depending on how many there are.

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