The City Council voted Monday, May 2, to slash the annual fee restaurateurs would be required to pay to have sidewalk dining outside their storefronts.
An application will now cost only $25 a year — a fraction of the $400 up-front and $70 annual fees outlined in the ordinance when it was enacted in September 2015 to enliven downtown.
Some restaurant owners balked at the original fee, saying it was far too high. Ferndale Community Development Director Jori Burnett said at the time the fee was necessary to cover the time that city staff would spend reviewing and processing the applications.
The Ferndale ordinance applies to a section of downtown near Main Street, just west of the Nooksack River. Restaurants that opt for sidewalk dining are required to leave 48 inches of sidewalk for pedestrians and for people in wheelchairs.
Permanent installations, such as a small fence around a storefront, also require a $100-per-hour charge, with a one-hour minimum, for staff to review and approve the planned installation.
The change on Monday came on a 5-2 vote, with Councilmen Keith Olson and Brent Goodrich opposed.
Councilman Greg Hansen made the motion that passed.
“We say as a city we’re open for business, that we encourage business — I think that gesture indicates that we are,” Hansen told the council.
Olson said he was concerned about covering the cost of staff time. With the lower price, he said, money to cover staff time would need to come from the general fund. The reduction from $400 to $25 was too much, he said.
“That certainly isn’t going to cover what it costs to do these things,” Olson said after the meeting. “We ask them, ‘OK, tell us what it’s going to cost to do it,’ and they tell us, and then we completely ignore it. It just irritates the hell out of me.”
I think it’s stupid. I don’t understand why the city needs that little bit of money when those businesses bust their butts to make a bottom line and stay in business.
Ferndale resident Yvonne Goldsmith on sidewalk dining fees
Some council members who supported the change, such as Cathy Watson, said the cost was worth the incentive for businesses to help spruce up downtown.
Ferndale resident Cleo Callen said the deliberation over the fee had taken too long. He was one of two people to speak when the council opened the floor Monday night for public comment.
“It just seems to me like you’re making a really big deal out of something that is maybe not such a big deal,” Callen said before asking how many restaurant owners would actually apply. “This is like a half a dozen restaurants, maybe, that are going to want to put in some outside dining — can’t (city staff) just absorb that and go on with it?”
Yvonne Goldsmith, a former restaurant owner who sits on the city’s planning commission, was the other member of the public to speak.
“I think it’s stupid,” she said of the fee in general. “I don’t understand why the city needs that little bit of money when those businesses bust their butts to make a bottom line and stay in business.”
Cost was the reason that Ernesto Torres, the owner of Mazatlan Seafood and Grill on Main Street, decided not to apply for a sidewalk permit last fall. Torres said space inside his restaurant is limited, so having tables outside was something he had considered — but not for $400.
“Four hundred for two little tables is too much because that’s only four people,” he said, adding it would take far too long for those tables to pay for themselves.
But with the new fee, Torres said he’d “absolutely” consider sidewalk dining.
Laura Edwards owns Laura’s Creative Attic, selling ice cream, truffles and other treats out of The Checkered Apron on Third Avenue. She said she was interested in pursuing a sidewalk dining application under the new fee, and had been “one of the complainers” when the city announced the previous fee.
“I knew we were going to have to pay something, but didn’t know it was going to be that much less,” she said.