Alfresco dining returns to downtown Cambridge

Just like last summer, the City of Cambridge will allow downtown restaurants to offer outdoor dining due to COVID restrictions, with Second Ave SE being partially blocked off for customers’ safety.

Last summer, when Minnesota Governor Tim Walz allowed for restaurants to begin serving a limited number of customers outside, the Cambridge City Council quickly approved the partial closing of Second Ave SE in order for Sidelines and Chapala to be able to safely host customers. Additionally, Cambridge Bar and Grill was allowed to set up a tent in their back parking lot, Leader was allowed to set up sidewalk tables, and picnic tables were placed in the vacant Arlington lot for customers of Peoples Cafe and Pizza Pub to use if they chose.

This year, considering restaurants still aren’t able to allow full capacity inside their establishments, the council was equally quick in allowing the same outdoor options.

On a unanimous vote during the April 5 meeting, the council approved the partial closing of Second Ave SE, between the alley and Adams Street South, with barricades placed in front of Sidelines and Chapala. Also like last summer, traffic on that street will be limited to eastbound only. The closure will be in effect from April 6 through Sept. 30, or until the state allows restaurants to operate normally, whichever comes first.

According to Assistant City Administrator Evan Vogel, an informal poll placed on the city’s Facebook page yielded nearly 200 comments, with 100% of them being in support of outdoor dining. Mayor Jim Godfrey added he shared that post on his personal page, where the responses were also unanimously in favor.

During discussion, Council Member Bob Shogren took the request one step further, saying he would like to devote part of a council workshop on the idea of permanently closing Second Ave SW, thus making it a pedestrian mall, which would allow for outdoor dining every summer.

“That would be a council decision,” Vogel told Shogren. “It seems to have very broad community support, and the restaurants seem to appreciate it.”

A condition of allowing the outdoor dining is that each establishment will have to extend their liability insurance to include the outdoor space.

Accessory structure variance denied

Also at the April 5 meeting, the council on a 3-2 vote denied a request to build an accessory structure at 831 11th Ave SW, which is currently a vacant lot. Current city code does not allow for accessory structures to be built on vacant lots.

 The request was made by the owner of the adjacent lot, who also owns the vacant lot. The owner stated if she were to sell the vacant lot, she would remove the structure. When asked why she is requesting a variance rather than legally combining the two lots into one, she said she was advised by a lawyer this would be the better way to do it since she would have to go back and separate the lots if she chose to sell. 

This request was originally on the March 15 agenda, however the council was split 2-2 at that time, so they decided to table the request in order for the full council to be able to vote, plus staff was asked to do some additional research on the topic, specifically as to if such a request has been granted before. 

During discussion, Vogel told the council he could not find any other similar requests that were approved by the council. Additionally, he discovered that the dimensions of this structure would result in over 50% of the lot be covered by an impermeable surface, which would also go against city code. So if the council approved this variance, the owner would have to apply for a second variance for the excessive impermeable surface.

Based on this new information, plus because this would set a precedence, and because there is no way for a future council to enforce the owner’s promise to remove the structure before selling the land, Mayor Godfrey made a motion to deny the request. He, along with Council Members Mark Ziebarth and Shogren voted in favor of the denial. Council Members Lisa Iverson and Kersten Barfknecht-Conley voted against the motion.

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