Several weeks ago, the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works asked for public comment on a decorative metal fence in the 1700 block of East Carson Street. Perhaps through the efforts of community minded residents, the notices were removed from the poles almost as soon as they were posted. It mattered little since the city posted a telephone number that wasn't being answered.
A second attempt at public comment was made with responses directed to the City Clerk's Office. More than 70 people responded by faxing, emailing and sending in responses opposing the placing permanent on East Carson Street.
The day after those 70 people's comments were due, lame duck councilman Jeffrey Koch presented a resolution in City Council to grant Folino's Ristorante "the privilege and license to construct, maintain and use at their own cost and expense, decorative steel fencing on the sidewalk area of 1717-1721 E. Carson Street."
The resolution was voted on, without fanfare or comment by Mr. Koch, or any other councilmember on Tuesday, Oct. 31. Although the city clerk provided copies of all the protest letters to each councilmember, the resolution passed the first reading 7-0 with two abstentions. Council President Doug Shields and Jim Motznik abstained.
The second reading of the bill was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 5, a day earlier because of Election Day.
Section 911.04.A.68 Sidewalk Café, (d) of the code states, "The sidewalk cafe 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 cafe 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.
A resolution cannot supersede the municipal code.
The bigger questions are: Why was this resolution proposed in the first place and what could it do to the look of E. Carson Street? Of the rest of the city if steel corrals are permitted in every neighborhood?
Although the resolution is specifically written for a limited number of properties, how would City Council justify declining any other applicant for the same type of fence? Mr. Koch's perchance for not thinking through legislation is well know with several incarnations of his bar legislation presented before finally getting one that would pass.
The proposed resolution would go contrary to Mr. Koch's bar legislation. That legislation that was going to save South Side by reducing the number of bars thereby the number of bar patrons in the neighborhood. Instead, Mr. Koch proposes to get the bar patrons out of the bars and onto the sidewalk, increasing the noise level on the street and the occupancy of the establishments.
While sidewalk cafés bring a certain ambiance with them and are popular with patrons, City Council and Mayor Ravenstahl would do well to listen to the people opposing permanent fences on E. Carson Street. Sidewalk cafés in South Side and the rest of the city should remain as they are now, creating a European feel to the street during business hours and put away when the business is closed.