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Alterra wins larger outdoor dining area

Bid to boost safety fails to sway vote

July 7, 2010

Alderman Don Birschel, worried that Alterra Café's plan to expand its outdoor seating area closer to the street will result in tragedy, submitted his own plans for the coffeehouse to the Common Council on Tuesday.

His revisions kept the extra outdoor seats near the building - at least 22 feet from Swan Boulevard and North Avenue. The goal: To prevent another person sitting on a café patio from being injured - or worse, killed - because they are hit by an out-of-control car, as happened recently at the Starbucks in the Village.

But Birschel's alternative failed to get enough support; only aldermen Tim Hanson and Linda Nikcevich voted for it. Instead, the developer's plans and an agreement permitting development in the city right of way passed, 10-5.

Opinions split

Alderman Thomas Herzog called Birschel's plan "the dumbest idea I have heard in the 10 years I've been on the council."

Specifically, he objected to his fellow council member's desire to move the sidewalk closer to the road to provide more space for seating next to the building. The crosswalk would not line up, he said.

Other opponents to replacing developer Sean Phelan's plan cited an appreciation for the aesthetics, a belief it would attract business to an already successful café, an objection from the business to proposed changes and the lateness of the submission.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt didn't support Birschel's proposal, but he did say that he, too, had concerns about the safety of Phelan's plan - that's why he also voted against that plan.

Prior to the meeting he met with Alterra's manager and walked the property. Then he rode a bike past the business a few times. Ewerdt lives little more than a block from the intersection and the amount of traffic and disregard for the rules of the road made for a "dangerous" situation, he said.

"There's so much going on at this intersection that we don't need another distraction," he said.

He was hoping to ask for revisions, but with the rest of the council ready to vote, Ewerdt's trepidation won out.

"The thing I take most seriously about the job (of alderman) is safety of the public," he said.

Planters to be buffer

Phelan's plan puts seating nine feet from the curb, as stipulated by the fire marshal. The outdoor area will accommodate 34 more patrons.

Parking that could provide a buffer from traffic, is not permitted on either street in front of Alterra. Instead planters will be used to separate the dining area from Swan.

Nikcevich took issue with Phelan's plan to put gravel in the seating area, fearing pieces will spill onto the sidewalk. She sees a need for a longer-term fix in case Swan is widened to accommodate a better-delineated right turn-only lane onto North Avenue. City staff members have suggested such road work may be called for.

Herzog said he doesn't believe such work will occur.

HOW THEY VOTED

In favor: Cheryl Berdan, Kathy Causier, Thomas Herzog, Dennis McBride, Eric Meaux, Jacqueline Jay, Jill Organ, Bobby Pantuso, Jason Wilke, Craig Wilson

Opposed: Don Birschel, Brian Ewerdt, Tim Hanson, Linda Nikcevich, Michael Walsh

Absent: Peter Donegan

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