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Council votes to expand use of sidewalk, move bike racks

Council votes to expand use of sidewalk, move bike racks

Businesses in downtown Decorah may soon begin to use more sidewalk space for tables and displays.

Currently, businesses can use a three-foot wide section next to their building where the sidewalk is 10 feet wide and two feet on eight-foot wide sidewalks. At its meeting last week, the Council, on a 5-2 vote, approved the first reading of an ordinance that increases that allowance from three to five feet, or from two feet to three feet. Council members Gary Rustad, Kirk Johnson, Andy Carlson, Dan Bellrichard and Chuck Lore voted in favor of the change, while Steve Luse and Randy Schissel voted against it.

Schissel said he’s heard concerns about sidewalk tables and displays from citizens who use strollers and wheelchairs. He said businesses should keep their tables close to the building the way the Oneota Coop and Java John’s Coffee House do.

Rustad said he’s heard comments about T-Bock’s already using five feet of sidewalk for tables and fencing, and Luse said with the table umbrellas, it’s closer to six feet.

“Our living example of five feet isn’t working,” Schissel said.

Luse said he’s aware of a woman using a walker who couldn’t make it around the T-Bock’s “obstacle.”

“I do support outdoor dining, but I do feel the thoroughfares aren’t restaurant space, they are thoroughfares,” Luse said.

‘Common sense’

Rustad said use of the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Winneshiek should be monitored because there are also benches and trees within the sidewalk. He said the situation might need to be monitored on a case-by-case basis.

“In some places, it might not work,” he said.

“We need to start trusting downtown business owners to use common sense. They are heavily involved. They’re not trying to create a hazard,” Carlson said.

Luse said T-Bock’s isn’t paying attention to the existing ordinance that allows the business to use three feet of sidewalk.

“When do they become trustworthy and honor what the ordinance is?” Luse asked. “If we don’t have the ordinance followed, what good is it?”

City Manager Chad Bird said the sidewalks do need to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires a four-foot wide, clear pathway. Rustad said that might require the benches in front of the Hotel Winneshiek to be removed

Bellrichard said he was in favor of moving forward with the new ordinance and “seeing what happens.”

Mike Bockman, owner of T-Bock’s, said he intentionally used five feet of sidewalk for tables and fencing so the city would get feedback. He said he’s heard mostly positive comments.

“I think it’s great for downtown Decorah,” Bockman said.

He said he would move the tables to within three feet of his building “right away.”

Rustad said the city’s Self Supporting Municipal Improvement District Board is in favor of increasing the amount of sidewalk businesses can use.

“I sense it’s the future of downtown,” he said.

The Council is scheduled to hold a second reading of the proposed ordinance at its Monday, Sept. 19, meeting. Three readings are required before an ordinance can be considered for adoption.

Bike racks

In another downtown matter, the Council discussed relocating two bike racks in an effort to keep bikes off sidewalks, particularly in front of T-Bock’s.

Rustad said bikers like to be able to see their bikes and that the racks can be moved easily.

The Council voted 6-1 to move a rack that was located on Winnebago Street to 206 W. Water Street, in front of T-Bock’s, and from the Montessori School parking lot to 421 W. Water St., in front of the Old Armory BBQ.

bike racks

Schissel was the only Council member voting against moving the racks.

“They can’t walk across the street to get a beer? I don’t understand why bike riders can’t use what’s provided,” Schissel said.

Bikers congregate at T-Bock’s and want to park their bikes directly in front of the business, Bockman said.

“Bikers are shoppers. We’ve spent $10 million on a trail (the Trout Run Trail) and you want to hide the bike racks?” Bockman asked Schissel.

“The city should acknowledge that it’s bike friendly …. If this doesn’t work, we can fix it. If we don’t try it, we won’t know if it will work,” Bockman said.