BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s restaurants and bars now have the option of seating patrons outside no matter the time of year.
The Bangor City Council on Monday night approved a revised set of Sidewalk Licensing Agreement standards aimed at shoring up policies that hadn’t been revised since the early 1990s.
Aside from allowing year-round alfresco dining on city sidewalks and squares, the new licensing standards allow restaurants and bars in the newly renovated West Market Square to set up outdoor dining spaces extending no more than 19 feet into the square. The new rules also establish a design review committee made up of members of city staff and the Downtown Bangor Partnership, which will regulate fencing, furniture and design of outdoor dining spaces.
At least one West Market Square business owner, Matt Haskell of Blaze, hopes to set up outdoors in winter during events like the Festival of Lights Parade or New Year’s celebration. He also said he hopes this policy change will help liven up downtown’s winter landscape and spark other cold-weather events and festivals.
Previously, little or no interest had been expressed in winter outdoor dining, so the city hadn’t established rules or licensing around it.
Outdoor winter dining and festivities are a popular, common sight in chilly cities like Montreal and Quebec, as well as across Europe. Haskell and Tanya Emery, the city director of community and economic development, have said they would like to see that vibrancy spread to the Queen City.
The new licensing fees are small enough that they aren’t burdensome, business owners have said. For table service with alcohol, the fee would be $200 to serve April through October, or $300 for the entire year. Without alcohol, the fee would be $25 or $50, respectively.
Those fees serve a dual purpose, according to city officials. It helps the city cover the cost of staff time consumed by the licensing process, and it acknowledges the value of public ways — squares and sidewalks — that the businesses are using.
No business will have to pay those fees until 2016. The city will give businesses a break in 2015 because the major West Market Square and Main Street construction projects during the past year hurt the businesses’ bottom lines.
The council’s decision Monday also allows businesses to extend dining spaces 19 feet from their buildings is good news for West Market Square businesses. The city and council also considered an 11-foot limit, which would have made it difficult to place more than one row of seating.
Previous Sidewalk License Agreements were crafted and approved on a case-by-case basis. Now, those requests will be passed through the Code Enforcement Office to make the process more uniform, according to the city.
The previous outdoor dining policy was passed by the council in 1991 and hadn’t been touched since, in spite of the major changes to the downtown landscape. With the revival of the downtown, more businesses have been interested in opening space in squares and sidewalks to build an alfresco eatery scene.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.