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Table for none

Cafe fights City Hall on outdoor dining

Cafe fights City Hall on outdoor dining

August 02, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Patrons of a popular new restaurant in Williamsport have a tip for town officials: Don't take away our sidewalk tables.

Blue Moon Cafe customers, including the mayor's wife, are ready to fight Town Hall for the right to eat outside.

Patrons are protesting a town order to remove the caf's outdoor tables, which owner Judy Loiseau-Myers had been setting up on the wide sidewalk in front of her business at 8 a.m. and putting inside when the caf closed at 2 p.m.

Town officials say no object is permitted to obstruct the public right-of-way.

Customers say the outdoor dining was a welcome change for Williamsport, and that an attractive business that's drawing more visitors to the town shouldn't be penalized for offering a desirable service.

Even the mayor's wife said she would sign the "Save the Sidewalk Tables and Chairs" petition posted in the caf at 21 N. Conococheague St.

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"I'm for those tables," said Elissa Slayman, wife of Mayor John Slayman. "I think it's the best thing that's ever happened for Williamsport."

Nearly 50 people had signed the petition as of Thursday. Loiseau-Myers invites petition signers and other sidewalk dining supporters to speak on the caf's behalf at the next Williamsport Town Meeting on Aug. 12.

"Why can't people sit outside and drink their coffee and read their newspaper?" asked Williamsport business owner James Jewell. "People like it. Times are changing."

Caf neighbor Hannah Poffenberger said the outdoor tables lent a "big city" touch to the small-town restaurant, which opened July 15.

"It's the best looking business in town," Poffenberger said. "They've worked hard on it. Why not let them bring a little city to Williamsport?"

Mayor Slayman says because it's against the town's rules, and "someone complained."

The town's zoning ordinance doesn't specifically address sidewalk tables, but it does state that it's "unlawful for any person to erect any structure or projection of whatsoever nature or kind that said structure shall extend upon or over the limits of any pavement or sidewalk."

Town officials don't need an ordinance to ban sidewalk dining, Town Attorney Edward Kuczynski said.

Municipal law gives them "absolute authority" on such public right-of-way issues, he said.

Loiseau-Myers said pedestrians had plenty of room to walk past her three two-person tables. They were set up flush with her storefront, leaving about 4 feet of open sidewalk, she said.

The tables didn't even extend beyond a neighbor's protruding porch, Loiseau-Myers said.

And she was improving the town's appearance by washing the sidewalks in front of her small caf every morning before she set up the tables, she said.

That doesn't matter to town officials, said Dottie Byers, owner of Byers Busy Corner restaurant and bar in Williamsport.

Town leaders didn't comment when her husband re-bricked the sidewalk in front of their business, but they told her to stop when she put one small table on the sidewalk for customers who wanted to dine outside, Byers said.

"I've been fighting this for years and I'm tired of it. I pay $3,000 in property tax and I can't have one little table out in front of my place," Byers asked. "This town don't want nothing it don't have control over."

Loiseau-Myers said she was told to stop using the outdoor tables when she went to Town Hall to pay her business' electric bill in late July.

She asked for a copy of the law that prohibits tables on the sidewalk so she could appeal, and was sent a letter that outlines town officials' discretionary right to ban objects that block the public right-of-way and a copy of the zoning law that addresses projections over pavements or sidewalks.

The ordinance was adopted in 1902, and amended in 1975 and 1977.

"It just sounds to me like it's an old ordinance," Loiseau-Myers said. "I'm hoping they'll amend it."

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