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Panel sends sidewalk dining ordinance to BMA

Round two is around the corner for a sidewalk dining ordinance in downtown Erwin.
The Erwin Planning Commission met on Wednesday, Feb. 25, and approved a new version of the ordinance which is now to be voted on by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman’s meeting set for March 9.
The new form of the ordinance that will be presented in front of the BMA saw changes to the previous wording for Article 710.2.1.1, stating now that: “Restaurant shall be defined for the purposes of outdoor dining on public property as any building kept, used, maintained, advertised and held out to the public as a place where food is prepared and served to the general public.”
‘… To the general public’ was added to this latest form of the ordinance.
Sidewalk dining has been no stranger to the BMA in the past. During the Dec. 8 scheduled meeting, language was in the ordinance to potentially allow alcohol to be served and consumed at restaurants. It was brought up once again at the planners’ meeting held in January but was tabled for the period to check out concerns raised about the legality of allowing restaurants’ private use of dining on public property.
Proper avenues were taken, according to Michael Borders, who visited with Town Attorney Tom Seeley III last month to check out the intangibles of the ordinance. Borders serves as a town zoning and planning official.
“We needed to run things by Tom Seeley,” Borders said. “I contacted him, reviewed it, reviewed it again and he said legally, it was sound. There weren’t any big changes. The main concern was to run it by the town attorney to make sure we were legally sound. This is pretty much a direct copy of Johnson City’s (ordinance) with a few changes and to my knowledge, they haven’t had any issues or problems arise.”
Along with using the Johnson City sidewalk dining ordinance as a reference, restaurants are also asked to maintain a $1 million commercial liability insurance policy in Erwin’s dining ordinance.
Downtown restaurant owners shared their thoughts of what sidewalk dining can bring to the town, including Lou Snider, owner of Hawg-n-Dawg.
“It gives another opportunity for people to enjoy downtown,” he said. “If people prefer to sit outside and eat, I think it adds another dimension to the overall downtown experience after what’s been done to fix up the downtown area.
“I know there’s a lot of people that walk their dogs downtown. I know they’d sit down and eat or at least enjoy a Coke or something outside, but they don’t have the opportunity to do that. I think everyone should have the chance for outside seating, if they meet the requirements, if they want. The big thing is, the way the sidewalks are designed, we don’t have a lot that could accommodate a four foot-plus, five foot sidewalk without being impeded by the tables. I know (Union Street) and Gay Street has that … anything we can do to draw more people downtown and make it casual is good.”
Ben McNabb, owner of Steel Rails Coffee, shared the same sentiments in regards to what the ordinance could bring to the area.
“When you have outdoor seating, it attracts more people because they like to enjoy the outside, especially the spring and summertime here,” he said.
McNabb also added that outdoor seating would help individuals who are out with their pets and even hikers that come through the area.
“It is also about the aesthetics of walking or driving by,” he added. “It attracts more people to stop on by. Restaurants downtown need it.”
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A 4.66 square foot variance was granted for Taco Bell’s new sign that will be placed at the restaurant’s future location in Erwin at 506 Jonesborough Road.
Along with the granted variance, discussion ensued with a change to the sign regulations coming to Erwin. In the current sign ordinance, issues encountered are churches and other permitted uses in residential zones are not allowed to have signs and a linear footage issue that Tractor Supply, Bojangles and Taco Bell saw.
Borders, along with community planner Ross Phillips, also announced they would start going through the town’s sign regulations to help with clarification.