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
The suburbs aren’t alone in dealing with patio controversies. In 2011 Minneapolis Council Member Meg Tuthill’s efforts to impose new restrictions on patios and rooftops drew criticism from Uptown’s restaurateurs and customers. It later was dropped in lieu of a voluntary noise mitigation plan but became a campaign issue against Tuthill, who lost her seat to Lisa Bender.
While homeowners in the cities might complain, suburbanites tend to have even higher expectations of privacy, McComb said.
“Urban dwellers accept higher density and what comes with it as part of the deal,” he said. One neighbor of Babe’s wrote to the city to complain of “the use of the ‘F’ word” by boisterous patrons. “We do not live in downtown Minneapolis,” he added.
Excelsior Council Member Mary Jo Fulkerson was strongly against the microbrewery’s proposal because people would drink in public out in front, before churchgoers and children at nearby schools. Klick responded by telling the council his business has made donations to local schools and hosted countless school fundraisers.
“I don’t think they bring their kids,” Fulkerson shot back. “It’s the wrong spot for outdoor seating.”
Under a plan approved by the city, the microbrewery was allowed to have a patio with seating for 28 customers in an alley next to its building. Another request for a 12-seat patio in front was shelved.
Noise, broken glass
In Eagan, a proposal for a patio at the Fiesta Cancun restaurant was modified and downsized from 52 to 48 seats after neighbors objected. When Maguire asked the business at a recent City Council meeting if it could cut the seating further to 40, it readily agreed. Neighbors were still unhappy, saying a patio could worsen problems they already had with noise and patrons straying into their yards.
Maguire said he was disappointed with residents’ unwillingness to find a solution workable for both sides. “The assumption that 40 people are all going to act the same way because they’re on a patio is a little mind-boggling,” he said.
In Lakeville, residents’ grievances surfaced when the city considered letting Babe’s and Carbone’s Pizza stay open later.
The two businesses have had shorter patio hours than others in the city because they’re close to residential areas. The restaurants say they are losing business to other establishments where patio hours aren’t restricted.
Lakeville’s police chief told the council the two businesses haven’t generated an unusually high number of complaints. But neighbors said their issues go beyond noise.
“We wind up with broken bar glasses on our property,” Lattu told the council.
After hearing neighbors’ concerns, the council chose to delay a decision indefinitely.
“There are problems now,” said Lakeville Mayor Matt Little. He and council members said residents, the businesses and city staff should try to resolve existing issues before any change in hours can be considered.
Cities typically have rules for patios on screening, landscaping and noise control, with some prohibiting amplified music. Wischnack said Minnetonka has used sound equipment to test noise levels and set limits. Both Babe’s and Carbone’s say they already have taken some measures to buffer their patios from neighborhoods.
Ken Henk, a vice president of the company that is Carbone’s landlord, said he’s hopeful the businesses, residents and city can compromise.
But he added that some of Carbone’s neighbors are looking for an unrealistic goal: “100 percent quiet at all hours.”