Mayor's office wants seventh neighborhood meeting on proposal for six patio tables at South End restaurant

The Boston Licensing Board decides tomorrow whether to let Estelle's add twelve outdoor tables - six non-controversial ones on Mass. Ave. and six contentious ones on Tremont Street.

At a hearing this morning, a representative from the mayor's office asked the board to delay any decision until after she could schedule a meeting with the local community association to consider the Tremont Street tables, which would sit on a city sidewalk - and which still require a hearing before the city Public Improvement Commission even if the licensing board approves their use.

The local association wants the tables, which would have two chairs each, to be fully fenced in. Estelle's lawyer, James Byrne, said Estelle's engineer on the project has prepared plans for that, but that Estelle's would rather not have to put in a full fence, because that would block the patio off from the nearest restaurant door, making it more inconvenient for customers and staff to get to the tables. Instead, he said, Estelle's would rather have a more simple set of low barriers along the sidewalk.

After hearing that Estelle's owner Brian Poe, Byrne and Estelle's engineer have already met with neighbors six times over the issue of whether the tables should be fully fenced in or not, board Chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer said she was disinclined to force Poe to go through yet another neighborhood meeting.

"I don't know how much this attorney charges, but I'm sure it's not a penny an hour," she said. She said the Public Improvement Commission hearing will give any residents who really think the six seats should be fenced in another chance to air their grievances.

The Mass. Ave. tables do not fall under direct city purview because they'd be on privately owned land.

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    Comments

    I don't understand why this

    By on

    I don't understand why this would even be an issue! I think this part of the neighborhood could really use it, fence or not! Right across the way, the Parish has a patio area on Tremont. Granted, it's more fenced in, but I really don't get how that makes a difference.

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    fast tracking small business?

    By on

    More delays, more costs for small business. Outdoor seating was a big priority the last few years. Clampdown?

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    Just look at Merrill & Co

    By on

    They have basically blocked off the entire corner of Appleton and Tremont and all they use are planters. Much nicer than a fence.

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    HARUMPH!

    By on

    Dear God, 6 tables?! Well! We'll just see about that!

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    There are two reasons to object to expanded patio seating

    One is noise, the other is restricted sidewalk access. Noise is often managed by restricting hours, say, closing the patio by 10pm. Sidewalk access is trickier.

    Coppa is an example of a South End place I love but have noticed that its patio seating has slowly expanded over time to the point where it often mostly blocks the sidewalk; the only way you'd get by in a wheelchair would be popping into the street at a fairly busy corner. I would tend to favor markings on the sidewalk to clearly define the legal, approved extent of this kind of patio (one that has no permanently installed border devices) so that this footprint creep would be more obvious when it happened. The extra outdoor seating can make a big impact on the bottom line, especially at a small place like Coppa, so many places will get away with whatever they can, and enforcement (by whomever is responsible for it) doesn't appear to be anyone's priority.

    I'm all for patio dining, but if you live nearby and it wasn't there when you moved in, I think you're justified in raising some concerns. It's easy to be in favor of something you enjoy the benefits of (occasional use of a restaurant patio) and none of the downsides (because you don't live nearby).

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    Not true about Coppa

    It was vetted by the neighborhood association (Eight Streets), which asked for and got the restricted operating hours for the patio; it has to have everyone off by 10pm, which means they have to start wrapping up outdoor service well before that. As lax as enforcement might be, I can't imagine any restaurant in the South End getting away with an unpermitted patio for years, especially one like Coppa, the patio of which can get quite loud, and is closely and densely surrounded by residential buildings.

    Mea culpa

    By on

    I do know that there are unpermitted outdoor patios in the South End. I will absolutely eat crow on Coppa, however, if you know otherwise.

    My attitude on places I like doing extra-legal things is

    generally not to talk about them, e.g., restaurants that are stretching the limits of their malt/wine/cordial licenses to serve cocktails (trick: if the booze is flavored or infused at all, voila, cordial!), places that let you BYOB, cold-tea joints, etc. But I know that the Coppa patio is an irritant to people that live in the neighborhood that it could correct simply in how it sets up the patio perimeter (with a portable pole/chain fence) every afternoon.

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    That's fine

    By on

    And I don't have anything against Coppa, nor do I wish them any harm. But there are places in that neighborhood which were denied permission for reasons of sidewalk space, or abutter complaint, and go about their outdoor seating anyway. It harms the businesses that follow the law and acts like an illegal taking of government space. It's not a cold-tea joint, its a company setting up private commerce in a public way, to the detriment of people trying to get by on the sidewalk.

    Again, I'm not talking about any place in particular, just the idea that they're not harming anyone is facile. I'm in favor of fairness, I guess is the crux of my point.

    And just how did the world end

    By on

    because patio seating was put in without the "mother may I" permission? Perhaps instead of chiding businesses for not following archane permitting procedures, we should instead re-evaluate the need for those very permitting procedures.

    If we want to be serious about reducing waste and improving government efficency, these are exactly the types of things we should be looking at, instead of justifying such unnecessary actions by hiding behind buzzwords like "environment" and "quality of life".

    There's a good reason for those controls

    It's that so that untrammeled development doesn't automatically put an individual business's commercial interests ahead of the quality of life of residents. If you don't believe quality of life is an actual, real issue, try living next to neighbors who throw loud parties till 2:30am every night when you have to get up for work at 6am. That is what it can be like when a bar gets its license extended from midnight to 2am.

    Nearby residents also have their property values to protect: for most people, their home is their single biggest investment. Neighborhood associations don't have veto power over these issues, but I'm glad there's a process in place where neighbors get a chance to have their concerns heard.

    I don't think these concerns should be used as an excuse to try to roll back or hem in existing neighborhood businesses: if it was there when you moved in, you should have considered that in your purchase decision. But before some developer tries to install a new nightclub across the street from my home, with the attendant crime, noise, traffic, trash and parking issues, you had better believe I'm going to have something to say about it. That's an extreme example, but adding a noisy restaurant patio to an otherwise quiet residential street is not a trivial change to the neighborhood.

    As I said, it's very easy to be in favor of something of which you enjoy the advantages but don't have to bear any of the costs.

    How about this for a radical idea

    By on

    We allow the already licensed and operating business to expand and put thier patio tables in, and wait for a year or so. If the earth doesn't spin off its axis, plagues of locusts, dogs and cats living together, etc. in that time, then we let the expanded patio stay.

    This utter nonsense of "oh, we can't allow any change whatsoever because I don't want it it is automatically presumed to have a harmful negative impact" only serves to breed government waste (the Licensing Board having to hold SEVEN hearings on this totally trivial matter being a perfect example) and drives businesses out of this city.

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