City Attorney Herman Marks has a message for downtown Decatur restaurants after one eatery set up to serve customers Friday outside of its approved sidewalk café area.
Failure to provide a plan for expanded seating to the city and obtain City Council and state Alcohol and Beverage Control approval is a violation of city and state laws, Marks told the council at its Monday work session.
Marks said Bank Street Grill, owned by Scott Bryant, set up in an unapproved outdoor area Friday in preparation for business hours.
Police Department spokeswoman Emily Long said the department received a tip that the restaurant was allegedly violating the city ordinance. She said a police officer went to the business and informed it that its expanded sidewalk café area was a violation. The restaurant complied with the officer's directive to move its tables and chairs.
When an officer from the night shift went to the restaurant later to make sure it remained in compliance, it was, Marks said, and no citations or arrests were made.
Bryant could not be reached for comment.
The City Council approved a temporary ordinance change earlier this month that allows downtown restaurants to expand their sidewalk cafés as a way to improve business during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ABC Board said expanding the seating area on the sidewalk is acceptable during the pandemic, but it refused to allow restaurants to use the on-street parking as initially proposed.
Christy Wheat, owner of Simp McGee’s — located just south of Bank Street Grill — is the only downtown restaurant owner to provide a plan and receive council permission for outdoor seating expansion so far.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday were her first nights using the expanded café.
Wheat proposed expanding her restaurant’s service area as a way to boost her business to offset limits on seating capacity during the pandemic.
Marks reminded downtown restaurant owners that they must receive permission to expand their café area or use a city parking lot.
“It’s trespassing on city property and blocking a city sidewalk without permission if they violate the city ordinance,” Marks said. ”The police chief or the (city) Building Department can revoke a restaurant’s permit to use the sidewalk for an outdoor café.”
Council President Paige Bibbee said someone also notified the ABC Board, which she said could pull or suspend a restaurant’s license, about the Bank Street Grill incident.
“It’s really difficult to regain your alcohol license when you lose it,” Bibbee said.
Bibbee said restaurants should also be careful and not cram too many seats within the approved sidewalk café area because the Morgan County Health Department can shut a restaurant down for violating the governor’s coronavirus pandemic order on social distancing that includes seating limits.