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Originally published Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Nickels plan would pave way for more sidewalk cafes

Jo Luna first applied for a city permit to put cafe tables on the sidewalk next to her Ravenna restaurant in May of last year. After she spent $3,000...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jo Luna first applied for a city permit to put cafe tables on the sidewalk next to her Ravenna restaurant in May of last year. After she spent $3,000 and waited four months, the co-owner of Gaudi Brasseria finally was able to set up five tables outside. Just in time for fall.

Calling Seattle's permitting system bureaucratic and outdated, Mayor Greg Nickels on Tuesday proposed reducing permit time and costs for restaurants that want sidewalk seating. The changes, which require City Council approval, would lower the cost from $2,300 to $600 for a 100-square-foot sidewalk-cafe permit and would set a processing goal of 10 days.

"It would add vibrancy to streets and great flavor to neighborhoods," said Alex Fryer, Nickels' spokesman. "We want to make sure cafes can do this easily."

The city now has 225 sidewalk cafes. The mayor does not know how many more would open if the City Council makes the changes.

Under the current system, restaurant owners must obtain approval from the city Department of Planning and Development and the Seattle Department of Transportation. Nickels proposed requiring approval only from the Transportation Department, which controls public sidewalk space.

The city says a 10-day turnaround would be comparable to other cities.

Nickels also wants to change the public-notice process for sidewalk-cafe proposals so that it would focus more on neighborhood concerns about noise and encroachment. Amplified sound would be prohibited in the outdoor seating area.

Councilmember Sally Clark said she likes his proposal.

"It puts some action behind our rhetoric that neighborhoods are enjoyable places to be, that feel pedestrian-friendly, that feel like they're more about people," she said.

Luna said the mayor's proposed changes were excellent.

When she applied for her permit last year, she said, the city bounced her around several departments.

"I had to keep calling, like continuously calling, like once a week minimum. Generally there were times I left messages and they weren't returned," she said. "It was at the point where we called on cellphone so they wouldn't know it was us."

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The $3,000 she paid upfront was a lot of money for a small business, she said. Gaudi Brasseria, which serves traditional Spanish food, seats about 45 people indoors.

"For the amount of work they did, it seemed expensive," she said. "I know they have to shuffle papers hither and yon, but I don't know."

She said the changes would put small restaurants on equal footing with large restaurants that can already afford the permits.

Even with the high costs and the headache, Luna said she would do it all over again.

People notice her restaurant more with the tables outside, she said.

"It just makes it look nice."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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