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Hold it, Raleigh

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So remember a few weeks back, when we told you that the city of Raleigh had seemingly backed down on its outdoor-drinking crackdown ("Blunt-force trauma," June 17)?

Yeah ... about that.

Quick refresher: At the end of May the city proposed new rules to govern how private businesses can use public sidewalks, which according to some downtown residents leads to excessive noise and trash and young bros pissing in front of God and everyone. Under that proposal, bars that did not make 30 percent of their revenue from food would lose their sidewalk privileges at the end of June, just in time for the July 4 drinkin'-and-'merica festivities.

As you might imagine, this did not make bar owners very happy. They pushed back hard, and earlier this month the City Council axed that contentious provision and delayed for a month deliberations on changes to its outdoor-dining rules. In the meantime, Council convened a hospitality task force of city staffers and downtown stakeholders to broker some sort of compromise.

And there we were last Thursday, at the task force's second gathering, and there we heard something that the bar owners didn't take as good news. While Council had weighed (and punted on) a restriction on the number of people who could congregate in outdoor spaces—one per 15 square feet seemed the magic number—city staffers were driving the conversation toward another metric: Instead of basing occupancy on the size of the outdoor space, the staffers wanted to align city policy with the new state building code.

At the risk of losing nuance, we'll try to keep this simple.

The building code, according to Building Plans Examiner Supervisor (there's a title) Leon Skinner, who helped write it, regulates establishments' occupancy limits in part based on how many bathrooms they have. The updated code, released in March, allows bars and restaurants to tack on an extra 20 percent of their indoor occupancy for outdoor patios without adding plumbing.

That's the ratio city staffers want to codify in the forthcoming ordinance. (Why they feel the need to do so when it's already enshrined in state code isn't immediately clear. Nor is it clear whether the city has ever actually enforced the building code.)

That could be very bad for some of the same bars targeted by the city's first proposal, especially Paddy O'Beers, a Fayetteville Street bottle shop and beer bar whose business model is premised on having lots of people outside.

Under the new formula, owner Zack Medford says, he could only allow five people outside at a time. That would be, in a word, untenable.

"Now all of a sudden they're pulling up obscure codes," says Medford, a task force member. "Basically putting Paddy O'Beers out of business."

And perhaps not just Paddy O'Beers.

If anything, this proposal could be further-reaching than the original, affecting not just bars but also restaurants, and not just establishments that use public sidewalks but also those with patios on private property. The day after the meeting, a group of bar and restaurant owners sat down and created a list of all the places that would be impacted. Barely leaving downtown, they came up with more than 50—among them, Boylan Bridge, State of Beer, even Flying Saucer.

"This new interpretation of occupancy is going to screw a massive number of small businesses all over town," says Medford.

For now, questions abound. But maybe we'll get answers soon: The task force directed city staffers to provide a report on how occupancy restrictions would affect area businesses at the next meeting, probably next week.

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

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