Apalachicola’s downtown business owners have begun a process, initiated by the city commission at last week’s monthly meeting, to hammer out a rewrite of a 2007 sidewalk usage ordinance into one that would regulate the growing presence of sidewalk cafes.

At a meeting Monday morning at the community center in Battery Park, its 16 participants evenly split between representatives of the city and downtown business interests, input was gleaned regarding what ought to be included in a comprehensive ordinance regulating cafes on the public sidewalk.

A proposed ordinance, unveiled by City Attorney Pat Floyd at the Feb. 7 city commission meeting, had come as somewhat of a surprise to those in the audience. To incorporate their concerns, which they voiced at the meeting, Mayor Van Johnson proposed Monday’s meeting. He was not in attendance, as he was out of town in Washington, addressing a national conference.

Floyd said commissioners asked him to draft a sidewalk café ordinance as a follow-up to recommendations made last fall by an ad hoc advisory group of downtown businesses. That group was created by the city commission to address a situation in which businesses were serving food and beverages on the city sidewalk, and while it was generally approved of by citizens and police, was technically against existing ordinances.

The group, chaired by Main Street Director Augusta West, offered a bare bones proposal that businesses licensed for the sale of alcohol be allowed to use the use of sidewalks adjacent to their licensed premises, and that a permit be created that would enable those bars and restaurants who wished to stay open until 1 a.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. weekends.

The city commission did not act on that recommendation, and sought Floyd’s help in expanding the 2007 ordinance, which passed unanimously 10 years ago, during Mayor Sandy Howze’s administration.

“There had been complaints made by downtown people of activity spilling out on sidewalks and streets from restaurants and bar,” Floyd said. “The commissioners said we need to get together and see what other communities do on their sidewalks. Bring us back an ordinance that shows the rules and regulations.”

Floyd downplayed the particulars of his proposed ordinance, stressing that he has compiled most all of the relevant aspects of ordinances from a handful of towns, as a good starting point. “There’s no pride of authorship,” he told commissioners. “It’s a combination of different rules and places. Add and subtract whatever you want to.”

West, who chaired Monday’s meeting, said in attendance from the city were City Administrator Lee Mathes, Commissioner Jimmy Elliott, Police Chief Bobby Varnes, Code Enforcement Officer Wilbur Bellew, Main Street Chairman Jim Bachrach, Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce Director John Solomon, restaurateurs Jerry Hall, from the Seafood Grille; Danny Itzkovitz, from Tamara’s Café, Charles Elliott, from Up the Stars; and Kirk Lynch, from the Chocolate Factory; and retailers Daniel Bollinger, from Apalach Waters; John and Sharon Morgan, from Apalachicola Outfitters; and Debbie Poloronis from The Shop.

West said the views tossed around were those of individuals, and not necessarily those of Main Street or of a defined consensus. She said those at the meeting thought the proposed ordinance was “overly regulating. They felt the way to proceed was to identify items that pertained the most, that most closely matched Apalachicola’s issues, and proposed that they be added to the 2007 ordinance.”

That ordinance primarily addresses the issue of obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and does not address the issue one way or another of the sale or consumption of food or beverage in the public right-of-way. It does allow for a permit that business owners can obtain that enables them to place “benches, flower/plant containers, chairs/tables, etc.” on city sidewalks, provided that items are no more than three feet in depth from the building’s edge into the sidewalk, that a minimum of four feet remain clear for pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk, and that business owners accept responsibility for clearing and maintaining these items to meet all safety requirements.

The proposed ordinance contains numerous specifics, down to such details as the angle of projection of an attached sign. West said the businesses support, in principle, an annual permitting fee for each business wishing to use their sidewalk, and for complete adherence to accessibility issues as required by the Americans for Disability Act. The businesses thought $100 for retailers, and $150 for restaurants a suitable annual fee, she said.

She said rules in the proposed ordinance pertaining to commercial general liability insurance, pegged at $1 million coverage, are already being adhered to by business owners. She said the requirement that the city be added as an additional insured would not be a significant cost to the businesses, and they are not opposed to that condition.

The business owners continue to seek inclusion of their request for an additional hour to serve alcohol. West said they also voiced support for having a mechanism for code enforcement when there are violations of the rules, so that the city has more teeth in ensuring that the law is met.

Some said they would like to see the city adopt rules that clear up any confusion that dogs are legal in such sidewalk areas.

One area of possible contention may be a provision pertaining to off-site signs, such as those found in the city right-of-way, blocks from a business, pointing passersby in another business' direction. West said several attendees of the meeting said they would like to eliminate the floating signs, and require that signs directly in front of a business be connected to that business.