Tables or parking spots? Park Ridge consider terms for relaunching outdoor dining

At its Committee of the Whole meeting March 4, the Park Ridge City Council started the process of reinstating its outdoor dining program. Council members discussed the public space, or parking spaces, that get occupied with restaurant tables, and noted that businesses other than restaurants need parking spaces for their customers.

Community Preservation and Development Director Drew Awsumb said the ordinance proposed by the staff would return outdoor dining from May 1 to Nov. 1 and would not make any significant changes to the previous year’s operations. He suggested the council pass the ordinance soon to give restaurants time to apply and for city departments to coordinate their preparations.

Alderman Fred Sanchez, 2nd Ward, said he would be interested in the city developing a master plan for outdoor dining in the warmer months that considers parking concerns for businesses in the Uptown area that don’t benefit from losing street parking. He asked if the city would consider changing traffic patterns along Touhy Avenue, as it did for Main Street near the Metra station.

Village Manager Joe Gilmore said the city did not consider changing traffic patterns because it wasn’t included in the budget. He said if the city were able to get additional grants for the program, he would be able to ask the City Council to consult with a professional firm to create a formal master plan.

According to city documents, the city used the market-based value of real estate in Park Ridge to establish how much it should charge restaurants to use parking spaces for outdoor dining. The fee rate was established at $5.62 a square foot, the same as last year. The fees would go towards marketing and promotional activities for retail and service businesses, and to invest in the beautification and landscaping of the outdoor dining areas themselves.

Alderman John Moran, 1st Ward, expressed that he was all for the plan but wanted to ensure that restaurants paid their fair share for the outdoor space.

“I’m good with it for one more year… before (Awsumb) communicates that the price is going to be the same, we (can) have a discussion here about continuing to work towards what that original fair market value was,” Moran said.

Alderman Joseph Steinfels, 5th Ward, said he would be interested in improving the outdoor dining scene. He said it currently looks like a hodgepodge.

“We can do better, and we have two months right now between now and go time,” he said.

Some business owners submitted public comments to the Council to air their grievances on the elimination of public parking when outdoor dining takes up space for tables. Some said the program should not have continued the way it has since the COVID-19 pandemic de-escalated.

“That time has passed, COVID is over, and the restaurants survived, as well as MANY other small non-restaurant businesses in this town. Special concessions such as the outdoor dining have no business continuing into perpetuity,” wrote Robert Solari of Solari and Huntington Jewelers.

Awsumb said he would take the feedback and bring the ordinance back to be voted on at the next meeting.