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Pittsburgh’s sidewalk cafe rules need to be adjusted, city councilor says

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

During a public hearing on sidewalk cafes in Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday, Councilor Bruce Kraus said the new spaces have proven to be disruptive, particularly on the South Side.

“It becomes a haven for people to hang out late at night, eat pizza, open fifths of liquor, smoke reefer, whatever they might feel like doing until four or five in the morning,” he said.

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Kraus said he wants to require business owners to put their furniture away at night, or to patrol the space in some way to keep people from congregating.

“If a business wishes to have that extension of premise, and to reap the benefits of the additional occupancy and the revenue that it generates, then I wish to hold them responsible for the management of that space,” he said.

Pittsburgh City Council passed the new regulations in February, but Kraus said it took a while for this problem to appear, calling it “the school of unintended consequences.”

Kraus wrote the city’s original sidewalk café legislation early in his tenure as a city councilor. But on Tuesday he said times have changed, as more businesses have clamored to set up outdoor spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials spent months working to streamline the application and approval process for those spaces, and to clarify the rules that govern them. Originally, any café application had to be vetted by three city offices: the Department of City Planning for a zoning review, the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, and the Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections. Now, just DOMI and PLI review.

The subject of Tuesday’s hearing was a fairly minor piece of legislation intended to clear up loose ends left from those changes.

The only speaker to address council during Tuesday’s public hearing, Cate Irvin of the Oakland Business Improvement District, spoke in support of the city’s new outdoor dining and retail program. She said small businesses are critical to the health and vitality of the neighborhood.

“Outdoor dining has been an essential way to support small businesses over the last two years,” she said. “The ability for restaurants to leverage outdoor seating has been essential for their survival.”

After the meeting, Kraus said he agreed that supporting small local businesses was important, and that “no industry has taken a bigger hit during the pandemic than the food and beverage industry.”

However, he said he intends to work with DOMI, PLI, and his colleagues to revisit the February legislation to address the question of street furniture after-hours.