CITY HALL — Restaurants on Ocean Avenue have one fewer regulation to worry about.
The City Council on Tuesday voted in favor of scrapping an ordinance that had prohibited the seaside eateries that lease outdoor dining space from City Hall from using drop-down curtains to shield patrons seated on their sidewalk patios from the cold.
City Hall staff had recommended establishing an amended standard for the restaurants that would have required them to leave their patio curtains up except at night or during cold whether — a proposed policy aimed at keeping the ocean front street as pedestrian friendly as possible.
But the council, after a brief discussion, decided the restaurant owners should have full discretion over when to use their drop-down curtains.
Council members said it was a common sense solution, but one that was a long time coming.
The windscreen issue, which affects just three restaurants, has been a topic of discussion at City Hall for more than a year. It came to the council’s attention after two restaurants — B.O.A. Steakhouse and Ma’kai Lounge — were cited for improper windscreen use. The restaurants challenged the citations, arguing the screens were necessary for doing business on Ocean Avenue.
The council discussed changing its windscreen restrictions last December, directing staff to return with “an option to allow drop-down curtains under certain limited circumstances that would be reasonably enforceable while still maintaining the Ocean Avenue pedestrian experience.”
On Tuesday, though, the council decided it made more sense to just let the restaurant owners be.
“What we want is successful outdoor dining at vibrant, profitable restaurants on Ocean Avenue,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown. Letting the restaurant owners decide when to use windscreens, he said, was the best way to accomplish that goal.
Councilman Bob Holbrook said it was in the restaurateurs’ best interest to leave their patios open whenever possible.
“The Holbrooks would rather sit outside as long as it’s comfortable,” he said. “If it became uncomfortable, we would like the [windscreen] to be lowered.”
All three of the restaurant operators who will be affected by the windscreen decision appeared before the council on Tuesday and asked for more leeway to decide when to use their windscreens.
Mayor Bobby Shriver said City Hall should look into possibly increasing the lease rate that Ocean Avenue restaurants pay the city to rent sidewalk space. A City Hall report said the restaurants pay $1.90 per month per square foot for patio space, an amount that “may be significantly below market value.”
The council approved the policy change with a 5-0 vote and said it would review the windscreen situation in a year. Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor and Councilman Richard Bloom did not attend the meeting.