Downtown sidewalk seating plan introduced

For a fee, restaurants would be able offer outdoor dining in central business district

By: Marjorie Censer
   The Princeton Borough Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday that would allow sidewalk seating for restaurants and cafés in the central business district for a fee of $200 to $600 a year, depending on the number of seats.
   Council members and borough staff members said last year’s sidewalk café pilot program, in which The Bent Spoon on Palmer Square paid $100 for three months of outdoor seating, was a success and set the stage for the new regulations.
   If approved at the council’s March 7 meeting, the ordinance would set annual permit fees at $200 for one to eight seats, $300 for nine to 12 seats and $600 for 12 to 24 seats. There would also be a $250 initial application review fee.
   In the seven-month period from April 1 to Oct. 31, during which outdoor seating would be permitted, restaurant and café proprietors would be required to restrict the seating area to no more than 6 feet in width and to submit an insurance certificate to the borough. Outdoor cafés would not be open before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and no alcoholic beverages would be permitted outside.
   "I think it’s going to be a great addition to the downtown," Councilman David Goldfarb said.
   If the ordinance is approved, nearly 30 borough food establishments would be eligible to consider outdoor seating. Nine borough eateries, including Panera Bread on Nassau Street and the Witherspoon Bread Company on Witherspoon Street, already have outdoor seating.
   In other business Tuesday, Robert Powell, principal of developer Nassau HKT, told the council that repair work will soon begin on the basement of the Spring Street garage, and the fix will likely cost between $400,000 and $500,000. Fourteen to 25 tie-down anchors will be installed to secure the slab to the bedrock below, and a high-strength grout will be inserted into the existing cracks in the slab.
   Mr. Powell said Nassau HKT will seek full recourse against garage designer HNTB Architects for the cost of fixing the problem. An independent analysis received in August 2005 suggested that the garage’s design caused the problem, but HNTB denied responsibility.
   The garage remediation will take roughly four to six weeks, and will require that some parking spaces in the garage be unavailable. Borough Engineer Carl Peters said he does not foresee a significant loss in parking revenue, because February and March are generally slow months downtown.
   "If we can do the work soon, we should eliminate any lost revenue," Mr. Peters said.
   Councilman Roger Martindell expressed concern about the warranty for the work and said his "worst nightmare" would be leaks in the garage five years from now.
   But Mr. Peters said the council should not expect the basement to be problem-free for its lifetime. Some engineers, he said, initially recommended the garage not have an underground level because of the water.
   "We decided to build a basement knowing that there are some risks associated with that," Mr. Peters said. "We’re going to have some maintenance because we decided to put a basement in."
   The council also introduced an ordinance that would give Princeton Community Television TV30 greater financial autonomy. Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said members of TV30’s board are better equipped to make decisions for the station.
   "This is a group of people that has a lot more understanding that we do at the staff level," Mr. Bruschi said.