Kolette Lattu lives fully a block away from Babe’s Music Bar in downtown Lakeville. But it doesn’t feel like it. Now that Babe’s has an outdoor patio, it feels to her like she’s at risk of becoming a “part of Babe’s party every Friday and Saturday night.”
Beth Kranz feels the same way about the pizza place near her home in Lakeville, now that al fresco dining has been added. The noise, she said, “travels up our back-yard slope and into our windows.” She wants a noise wall.
All across the Twin Cities, in fact, there are signs of growing conflict in the suburbs between patio dining and nearby residents’ peace of mind.
City officials find themselves dodging crossfire, “trying to find a way to balance the rights and needs of people to live in a neighborhood with the rights and needs of somebody doing business,” said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire.
That city recently approved a restaurant’s much-modified plan to add outdoor seating over neighbors’ objections.
Excelsior Brewing’s proposal to move outdoor seating from the back of its building “went south for us,” sighed John Klick, the microbrewery’s founder. The matter dragged on for months. At last a divided City Council approved a downsized patio — but slapped on restricted hours, and for inside as well as outside.
“Every time this comes up for discussion the noose gets tighter, and I don’t understand because this business has been a big asset to the city,” an exasperated Mayor Mark Gaylord told council colleagues before voting against the limits. Council members on the other side said they’d heard objections from residents and the developer of row houses across the street.
A growing trend
Patio dining may have arrived more slowly in the suburbs than the urban core, but the trend is in full swing, according to Julie Wischnack, community development director in Minnetonka.
More new establishments are including them in plans and older restaurants are adding them, she said, including Bacio, Ike’s Food & Cocktails and BLVD Kitchen & Bar.
“Our customers had been asking for a patio for years before we put one in,” said Mark Streefland, Babe’s general manager. “We could see that everybody else was doing it, and it sort of became an expectation from customers.”
And even in Minnesota, a few dozen extra customers for four or five months a year can bolster a restaurant’s bottom line.
John Shardlow, a Twin Cities development consultant, said patios have become more popular as suburbs try to remake themselves into places with walkable neighborhoods and downtown districts.
“When we do visual preference surveys, I can tell you that any image that has people eating in it, out in the public, is very highly scored. People respond very positively to that.”
Wischnack and Minneapolis retail consultant Jim McComb say patios also are a by-product of suburbs’ desire to have better dining options.
“They’re trying to get away from just having fast food chains and have more sit-down restaurants,” McComb said. “People want this, but if it means having a patio three blocks away from your house, you’re a little less excited about it.”
Shardlow agrees. “I tell cities that zoning is all about edges: what gets put next to what.”
Expectations of privacy