To borrow an often used expression on the South Side these days, it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
Late last week notices were posted on poles in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of East Carson Street by the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works asking for public comment on the "decorative metal fence on the sidewalk" at 1717-1721 East Carson Street.
Although the decorative fence or encroachment has been installed for a number of months now, Public Works is only now asking what the people in South Side think about it. According to the notice, "any person in the affected plan objecting to this proposal should make their objections known to the Dept. of Public Works within 10 days. The date of the posting was September 27 and the telephone number at the bottom was 412-255-2382.
All too often lately visitors and businesses have taken liberties with the neighborhood, preferring to just say "oops" and it's already done so we might as well leave it alone. With the limited resources of the city, taking liberties in the neighborhood may be the expedient way to get things done or just a way to get around the law.
The Folinos, Tony and Penny, owners of the businesses at 1717-21 East Carson have been community minded and generous in their support of the neighborhood and the decorative fence they have bolted to their sidewalk is attractive and sturdy. And according to Mrs. Folino, they followed all city procedures for applying for and being granted a sidewalk café encroachment.
However, this does not mean they or any other business person or resident should be exempt from following the law. The Pittsburgh Municipal Code (911.04.A.68 Sidewalk Cafe) is specific when it comes to sidewalk café encroachments:
"The sidewalk café area shall be separated from the designated pedestrian passageway by a removable barrier surrounding the perimeter. The height of the barrier shall be approximately three (3) feet and removed when the café is closed. The hole in the sidewalk shall be capped when the barrier is not in place. The barrier shall be of material and design in keeping with the character of the neighborhood."
The code also states, "It shall be determined that the proposed cafe service will in no way endanger the health, safety or welfare of the public or be detrimental to surrounding property values" and "The Certificate of Occupancy shall not be issued until a sidewalk encroachment document has been approved by the Department of Public Works."
The danger in circumventing the rules, whether it is building an outdoor deck or bolting a fence to a public sidewalk comes in the perception that you can do anything you want in South Side because either the feeling is the rules don't apply here or the city's resources are too overtaxed to worry about being caught.
Sidewalk cafés can be beneficial to the South Side, they add to the ambiance of the neighborhood and are popular with visitors who like the hustle and bustle of East Carson Street while dining. That being said, all businesses (and residents) in South Side should be encouraged to follow the rules.
With the Public Works department asking for comment on the "decorative metal fence on the sidewalk" at 1717-1721 East Carson Street, South Siders should provide that comment, positive or negative. All those interested should call the Public Works Department at 412-255-2382 by October 7 with their remarks.